|Juan Pablo Montoya on course during the final practice for the 2014 MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway -- Photo: John Cote|
IndyCar's Triple Crown campaign of Indianapolis, Fontana, and Pocono will reach its second leg on Saturday in California. Points leader Juan Pablo Montoya is the only driver in the field capable of winning the Triple Crown after drinking the milk at the Indy 500 in May. (Al Unser is the sole driver to have won all three 500 mile races in a single season.)
But what makes Fontana different than Indy - and Pocono, too - is the number of lead changes in an average race. This number gives us a pretty good idea of how important it is to qualify well at any given track. The less lead changes there are, the more imperative it is for you to start up front because there is less passing going on (re: passing is harder at that track).
Averaging out lead changes.
At Indy, there were 37 lead changes this year, 34 in 2014, and 68 in 2013 (an outlier for sure). If we replace 2013's 68 for 2012's 34, we get a more accurate average number of lead changes of 35.
Next up we'll look at Pocono. A fairly new track on the calendar, we only have the last two years to go off of (and this year's race hasn't happened as of writing). If we average the 16 lead changes in both years, we get 16.
Now we have Fontana. With lead changes of 18, 28, and 29 over the last three years, the average number of lead changes per race is 25. Auto Club Speedway produces on average ten less lead changes per race than Indy and nine more than Pocono does.
So what does this mean for Saturday's race?
It means if Montoya hopes to win the Triple Crown this year, he probably won't be able to drop to the end of the field like he did in Indy. At his lowest point in the race, Montoya was 31st on the track. Of course, he won't be able to physically do that being that there aren't 33 cars running this race, but the premise is similar:
At races with traditionally more lead changes, passing is easier, meaning you can drop back and still fight your way back up the field. That's a lot tougher to do at a track like Fontana, and doubly so for Pocono where starting up front is even more important.
Montoya needs to put in a good qualifying performance Friday night for a chance to keep the Triple Crown dream alive. We're saying that a grid start of anywhere lower than P12 for Montoya, and he's in trouble.