This weekend, the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to Pocono Raceway for the first time since 1989 for the Pocono IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco. Added to the mix for the race is the return of the Triple Crown—the award given to a driver that can win the longest oval races on the schedule.
The aptly nicknamed “Tricky Triangle” presents 3 unique corners, each bearing resemblance to corners at various racetracks. Turn 1 bears resemblance to the long closed Trenton International Raceway, turn 2 resembles Indianapolis while turn 3 resembles the Milwaukee Mile. It will come down to nailing the car setup as well as drivers hitting their marks in order to master the 2.5 mile superspeedway.
The Triple Crown previously existed from 1971-1989. From 1971-1981, the races that comprised the Triple Crown were the 500 milers at Indianapolis, the Pocono, and the Ontario. When Ontario Motor Speedway closed after the 1981 season, Michigan filled its place. After Pocono left the Indy Car schedule after the 1989 running, the Triple Crown was dropped as well.
With the return of Pocono, the Triple Crown has returned as well joining Indianapolis and Fontana. While it is not a 500 miler triple crown like the days of old thanks to ESPN wanting the race shortened to fit in their time frame, it still consists the longest races on the schedule.
Winners of 500 mile races during that time is a showcase of drivers of the time that includes the likes of Al Unser, Sr., Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Jr., Wally Dalenbach, Joe Leonard, Gordon Johncock, Tom Sneva, Roger McCluskey, Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mark Donohue, AJ Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Danny Sullivan, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Teo Fabi, and even included underdogs like Pancho Carter and John Paul, Jr.
Much like the Triple Crown of Horse Racing, the list of winners of the Triple Crown is very short. The only man to win the Triple Crown is Al Unser in 1978.
“Winning them all was a great gift,” Unser said. “We thought we accomplished the world when we won all three.”
“I didn’t think we’d be all that competitive even though we won Indy and Pocono. And we pulled it off – between Jim (Hall), Huey (Absalom), Franz (Weis) and the whole team we pulled it off. At Pocono, we gambled by not changing tires. We took a big chance and it paid off. You never know for sure until that dang checkered flag falls who’s going to win. And we just did it the right thing time times that year.”
This year, the man in contention for the Triple Crown is Tony Kanaan. Kanaan finally exorcised his Indy 500 demons after years of frustration. The only curveball for Kanaan is Pocono. He has never raced there, but neither has anybody else in the field (Dario Franchitti did run 1 NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 2008).
Unlike the previous incarnation of the Triple Crown, Fuzzy’s Vodka has put a $1,000,000 prize is up for grabs, something Unser wishes he had.
“I got a ring that said I was a Triple Crown winner and USAC gave the team $10,000. I know for sure we didn’t get a million dollars.”