AUTO PACAKGE: Andretti returns to Pocono still smarting from unprecedented penalty at Houston

  • Article by: JENNA FRYER , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 2, 2014 - 11:17 PM
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Marco Andretti

Photo: Tom Strattman, Associated Press

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Marco Andretti heads home to Pocono Raceway still smarting from an unprecedented call levied against him by IndyCar during the first race of the doubleheader weekend at Houston.

Andretti was racing ahead of leader Takuma Sato trying to stay on the lead lap when IndyCar issued a blue flag and ordered him out of Sato's way. The command, which Andretti initially disobeyed, would have forced him to willingly go one lap down from the leader.

Because he disobeyed the blue flag, he was shown the black flag, which is punished by a drive-thru penalty. A day after the Saturday incident, he was fined $2,500 by IndyCar.

At issue is whether IndyCar made the right call in issuing the blue flag to a car still on the lead lap. Series officials have intimated they believed Andretti was intentionally blocking Sato to aid Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe, who was in second and closed the gap on Sato while Andretti was in front.

If IndyCar has evidence to support that theory, they've yet to make it public. Last week, after overturning a penalty against Sebastien Bourdais, IndyCar president of competition Derrick Walker admitted the series lacks $5 million worth of technology he believes is necessary to properly police the teams.

Andretti and his father, team owner Michael Andretti, have both denied he was blocking for Hinchcliffe. Michael Andretti angrily called the accusation his son was following team orders "an absolute lie."

It's an issue that has resonated with the drivers, who questioned IndyCar about the blue flag in their meeting with race control a day after Andretti was penalized. It will likely still be discussed when the series shifts this week to Pocono for Sunday's race.

"I think it was the wrong call by IndyCar," said Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. "There's no way that early in the race Marco would be told to slow Sato up. ... He's got a right to be there. I've been in the position plenty of times where I've been the leader of the race and there's a lead lap car in front of me, getting ready to be lapped and IndyCar has never given me any help on that. I didn't expect it because that guy is fighting for every inch of the race track in order to stay on the lead lap."

Andretti, who started from the pole last year at Pocono before finishing 10th, is hoping the Pennsylvania track will be the site of his season turnaround. He heads into this weekend ranked sixth with two podium finishes.

"I'm really hoping to build on last year's Pocono performance this weekend, I think it's a track that we can do well at and Turn 1 there is one of my favorite corners in motorsports," he said. "With all of the hometown support, I'm hoping to put on a good show for the fans and grab a win."

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ONE MORE SPOT: Denny Hamlin returns to Daytona International Speedway looking for the one podium position that eluded him in February.

He had one of the most successful Speedweeks in recent memory when he opened the season with a win in the exhibition Sprint Unlimited and added another victory in the Budweiser Duel qualifying race. But when it counted, in the Daytona 500, Hamlin fell one spot short and finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Hamlin did, however, earn his first career points-paying restrictor plate race in May at Talladega Superspeedway.

But he wants that Daytona victory, especially after Saturday night's disappointment at Kentucky when a blown front tire on the 27th lap led to a last-place finish.

"We have obviously had a lot of success in the restrictor plate races this year," he said. "I think I have learned a lot about that style of racing over the years. I was always the guy that tried to start a new line and make something happen, and it didn't always work out for me.

"I think this year I have been a little more patient and let the race come to me a bit more. In the Daytona 500, we were just a little too far back on the last lap and made it up to second. I knew at Talladega that I wanted to be the one out front holding people off. I think that has been the preferred position in the last few plate races."

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