After another week off, it’s time for the NTT IndyCar Series drivers to return to action for the third time of the 2019 season. Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (4 p.m. Et/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network) will mark the first of two straight race weekend’s.
So far, we’ve seen a thrilling start to the season which has been won by two American’s in Josef Newgarden (St. Pete) and Colton Herta (COTA). Can we get a third straight?
Here are the top five storylines.
100th Andretti Win?
Oliver Askew gave Andretti Autosport their 98th and 99th career wins in Indy Lights competition at COTA. With no Indy Lights race on tap this weekend at Barber, it’s up to the four Indy Car drivers for the team to get them their 100th career victory.
It’s certainly possibly to happen too.
Alexander Rossi has two top 10 finishes to start the year off with. He finished fifth in this very race in 2017.
Ryan Hunter-Reay enters with a ton of momentum including a runner-up effort in this very race in 2018. He also is a two-time winner (2013, 2014) at Barber including having scored four top five finishes in his last seven starts.
Can Dixon Earn 1st Barber Win?
The five time series champion has practically won every where. Out of the 15 different tracks we stop at in 2019, Dixon has won on nearly all of them. One that’s escaped him though has been Barber.
It’s not like he’s been off during his career on the Alabama road course either. Dixon, has five runner-up finishes (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017) to go along with two third place efforts (2014, 2015) in nine tries. His only non podium finishes was a 10th place run in 2016 and a sixth place effort last year.
After a disappointing weekend two weeks ago in COTA, Dixon is hungry. He came away with a runner-up finish in the season opener at St. Pete and is after revenge from the last race at COTA.
For how close he’s been in his career at Barber, watch out for his No. 9 Honda.
Newgarden Eyeing A 3 Peat
What a great start to the season that it’s been for Josef Newgarden. He won the season opener for the first time of his career on the streets of St. Pete, then backed that up with a runner-up effort in COTA.
See, Newgarden was left pretty mad after a seventh place qualifying run on the Texas road course. He used great pit strategy to get into the top five after the first stint, then lucked out by the lone caution of the day to get a podium. Now, he heads to arguably his best track on the schedule at Barber.
Newgarden, has won two straight races on the Alabama road course and is eyeing a three peat. In fact, he’s won three of the last four Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama races overall and came home third in the lone race that he hasn’t won at Barber since 2015.
He led 46 laps in 2015, 14 in 2017 and a dominating 73 a year ago.
With how this season has gone, I would expect nothing less than a podium finish out of his No. 2 Chevrolet on Sunday afternoon.
He’s the early front runner for the 2019 championship that’s for sure.
Can Power and Pagenaud Escape The Bad Luck?
If you take out the bad luck over the last 14 months, then Will Power would have likely won more races than anyone else in the series. See, in 2018, Power had unbelievable bad luck.
Out of his six DNF’s, four were attributed to horrible luck.
In Phoenix, a race that he was looking like a race winning type of event, he crashed out while trying to pass a lapped car. The next race in Barber, he was running second before hydroplaning on water on an ill advised restart which coincidentally enough, brought out the red flag for a race that wouldn’t resume until the next day. If they don’t go back green, then he gets to race in dry conditions on Monday and finishes at the very least with a podium. In Texas, he crashed while passing a slower car. In Road America, his engine quit on him while starting second on the drop of the green flag to begin the race.
I could go on and on.
Power, said that physically he’s never felt as good as he does not and for the first time in the last few years, he’s back to being 100-percent. Unfortunately, the bad luck won’t go away.
In St. Pete, Sebastien Bourdais’ engine blew which his strategist Roger Penske called him down pit lane early in fear for a full course caution. That cost him the win in retrospect. He’d lose ground to Felix Rosenqvist and eventually finish third.
Last race in COTA, he didn’t pit early enough on his final pit sequence and would get caught out by a yellow. Not only did that cost him a win, his drive train went out in the pits on his final stop ending his day with a 24th and last place finish.
Power, led all 45 laps up until that point as he went from first to worth.
Again, bad luck.
Can that end Sunday in Barber?
Power, has seven top five finishes in nine Barber tries including a win in 2011 and again in 2012.
His teammate Simon Pagenaud has been bit by the bad luck bug too. He was caught out in qualifying with red flags flying. It cost him hot laps. Instead of joining his teammates up front, he had to start in the back in each of the first two races to the season. He’s drove up to the front in both races, but not to where he should have been.
Pagenaud, finished seventh in St. Pete but much further back at COTA after being involved in a late race incident.
If the luck changes for either, then watch out.
The first dual top 10 finish of 2018 for RLL occurred in Barber. See, it’s no secret, the best tracks for this organization have come on natural road courses. Last weekend in COTA, another natural road course, Graham Rahal brought his No. 15 Honda home fourth while his teammate Takuma Sato finished seventh in his No. 30 Honda.
That gives them high hopes for this weekend’s race at Barber.
Rahal, has two runner-up’s (2015, 2016) in his career on the scenic Alabama facility to go along with a seventh place effort last year. Sato, finished ninth in 2017 and eighth in 2018.
Now, they’re sleepers to watch.
Sato, won the race at Portland in Sept. of last year. Rahal, is always a threat on natural road courses. The team is now trying to turn the corner in general.
See, they were in rebuild move when Rahal joined them in 2013. The team scaled back to just one full time entry for him and by 2015, they were back near the top. Rahal, won that season and took a big leap forward.
Unfortunately, after a slight bump up in 2016, they kind of stalled out for 2017. They’ve always said that they wouldn’t add a second car just to add one. They didn’t want to take any resources away from their primary car in Rahal.
But, with how technical and difficult it is to land a setup right in Indy Car these days, it’s hard to do with just one entry. With all the resources in place, it was time to add a second car again for 2018. Plus, with a new car, they needed even more notes.
After a year to figure each other out in 2018, it’s time for growth in 2019. They feel they can close the gap between the Penske and Ganassi’s. They feel like they can challenge Andretti for supremacy up front.
Well, it’s working so far. Sunday, has the potential to prove it even further.