LEEDS, Ala – All the preliminary action is complete this weekend at the Barber Motorsports Park. We’re all set to race Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network).
The third race of the NTT IndyCar Series season is the 10th time overall that they’ve raced on the 2.38-mile Alabama road course.
Here are the top five things to watch for Sunday’s 90 lap race.
Rookie Colton Herta and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay practicing at Barber Motorsports Park on Friday – INDYCAR Media Site
This has been a very good weekend for the Honda teams. They dominated all three practice sessions in having the top six speeds in not only the first practice session, but the second one too. In each, eight of the top 10 times belonged to Honda drivers.
In Saturday’s morning session, they had the top five speeds and six of the top eight.
That translated to a very good qualifying session for them in taking five of the Fast Six and 11 of the top 13 starters overall.
While Chevrolet has won four straight in Alabama and six of the last seven, it appears that Honda’s may be the ones to beat.
Takuma Sato practicing at Barber this weekend – INDYCAR Media Site
Will Sunday’s Race Be Treacherous?
Normally, natural road course races produce minimal cautions. With how this weekend has gone, maybe we should think about the possibility of a lot of cars going off course.
In two of the three practice sessions, we’ve seen several cars spend more time off the track than on it. The first practice on each of the two days this weekend, saw a lot of red flag time.
Will Sunday’s race see a lot of cautions?
We only saw one at COTA two weeks ago, but I have a feeling we may see a handful on Sunday.
Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power practicing at Barber Motorsports Park on Friday – INDYCAR Media Site
Starting Position Key But Will We See A Caution Change The Race?
We’ve talked about this a lot this weekend and it’s true – starting up front is the key to success at Barber. Seven of the nine race winners came from the Firestone Fast Six, four of which from the pole. That’s good news for both RLL cars, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais and Spencer Pigot.
Will Sunday’s race though see a pure race with the cars with the most speed winning or will we see a caution in the middle of a pit sequence flipping the field?
We saw it happen in COTA with Will Power, Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon staying out too long on their final pit sequence and allowing Colton Herta to win. Will all the cautions this weekend cause engineers and drivers to think about short pitting their pit sequences?
Josef Newgarden practicing at Barber Motorsports Park on Friday – INDYCAR Media Site
Will Penske’s Struggle In The Race?
For a team that has dominated at Barber, with three straight wins, Team Penske has struggled in practice this weekend. Josef Newgarden has won the last two races on the Alabama road course for Penske and three of the last four overall, was only 14th, 18th and 17th respectively in practice. He starts only 16th.
He has a solid start to the season in a win in St. Pete and a runner-up two weeks ago in COTA. But, can he capitalize on his strongest track?
His teammate Will Power has seven top five finishes in nine tries at Barber but was only 12th, 11th and 15th respectively in practice in his No. 12 Chevrolet and rolls off seventh.
Simon Pagenaud won this race in 2016 but was only 10th, 15th and seventh himself. He starts 14th.
This was the first time since 2014 that Penske failed to put a driver in the Fast Six. They’re not the favorites on Sunday anymore.
Penske, has won six of the nine stops at Barber overall, but they look to be about the fifth best organization to start this weekend. Between them and Andretti Autosport, they’ve won all but one of the races at Barber.
The drivers spoke on how much energy they spent this offseason trying to make gains in the street course program. It paid off with a win in the season opener in St. Pete. They were fearful though that with all the attention they spent to improve in one area, they may lose in another.
Maybe natural road courses was it.
Alexander Rossi practicing at Barber on Friday – INDYCAR Media Site
100th Career Andretti Autosport 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. He was also ninth, fifth and 10th respectively in practice in his No. 27 Honda. He’ll roll off eighth.
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. The American was fifth, sixth and 13th respectively in practice in his No. 28 Honda and starts 11th.
Marco Andretti was 11th, ninth and 20th respectively in practice himself while Zach Veach was 22nd 12th and 24th.