The best of IndyCar racing have gathered for the 2013 Pocono 400, as one of the most notable races of the season is up for grabs, and top contenders look to improve their positioning in the standings.
Any race at the Pocono Raceway is special, but this one has an added significance. The 2013 race in Long Pond, Penn., will be the first time the race has been a part of the IZOD IndyCar Series since 1989, when it was shut down for poor track conditions.
The 2013 edition also boasts a new feature, with the race being shortened to 400 miles from the 500 it ran in the '80s. The three-turn, 2.5-mile track will be seeing its first action in almost 15 years.
We won't have a defending champion resting on his performance from last year, so it's anyone's for the taking. The right driver can write history at Pocono.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know for the upcoming race.
When: Sunday, July 7
Where: Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pennsylvania
Start Time: Noon ET
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Lineup courtesy of USA Today.
IZOD IndyCar Series Standings (before the race)
Information courtesy of IndyCar.com.
Can Hunter-Reay Close the Gap?
Watch out, Helio Castroneves: The defending champion is breathing down your neck and inching closer to your lead.
After a thrilling 2012 run to the IZOD IndyCar Series crown, Ryan Hunter-Reay has positioned himself for a run at a repeat and will start the race from the No. 2 slot.
Hunter-Reay finished in second place in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 two weeks ago, which was the most recent race on the slate. Meanwhile, Castroneves finished eighth, allowing Hunter-Reay to trim his deficit from 16 points to just nine.
Will Castroneves falter again and endanger his lead? All Hunter-Reay has to do is finish a little higher than his contender once again to get on top of the standings and add some more fire to his quest for a repeat.
IndyCar racing is not short on stars, but in order to put your name with a Marco Andretti, Castroneves or Dario Franchitti, you have to win on a consistent basis and make your moment as the sport's best. This is Hunter-Reay's moment, and his legacy will depend on how he closes out this season.
Return of Pocono—How Will Drivers Fare?
Despite falling out of favor in one racing sport, however, the track has seen plenty of action in the past few decades and figures to be ready for top-notch competition.
One big change from this year's race is that the distance will be diminished from 500 miles to 400, giving drivers even less time to make their surge and gain positioning for the final stretch.
No IndyCar race at Pocono in 2012, 2011 or 2010 means that no driver in the field has any sort of consistency level with the track and can rely on recent successes there. This is such a huge trait in any sport of racing, as drivers tend to have their signature tracks that bode more success than others.
Plus, the three-turn, triangle track screams unconventional and will require some adjusting.
How will notable drivers like Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Andretti and the rest of the field fare in the unfamiliar setting? That's the biggest question heading into Pocono.
Is It Just a Two-Man Race Now?
Those two men, obviously, are Hunter-Reay and Castroneves. Everyone else is playing catch-up right now.
Sure, there's still time for a handful of drivers to make a surge, and that can't be ruled out for many races. But if Hunter-Reay and Castroneves keep securing top-three finishes and win a couple of races here and there, it'll be a runaway.
Can Andretti close the gap with a victory? A big win at Pocono would be just the start and inch him closer to threatening the lead.
James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan are still in contention, but after them, few other drivers who have even an outside shot at finishing the season with the points lead.
Except for Hunter-Reay, any of these contenders would produce a first-time title winner, but don't expect it to be between anyone else than him and Castroneves, as long as they keep up their surge.