LEEDS, Ala – Now that we’re through all three Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions and qualifying for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network) who are the top drivers to beat at the Barber Motorsports Park this weekend?
Right now, five clear favorites stand out to win Sunday’s 90 Lap race around the 2.3-mile Alabama road course.
Keep this in mind, Team Penske has won five of the eight trips to Barber, including two in-a-row. Also, five of the eight races has seen the winner come from inside a top three starting spot. All eight winner have started in the top 10 too.
He’s due for a win. He finished second last weekend in Long Beach and was 14 laps away from winning this very race a year ago. Unfortunately, after leading 60 of the first 76 laps, he had to pit while leading due to a cut tire. He’d finish 14th as a result. But, Power has two Barber wins and a top five his other seven starts on the track.
His No. 12 Chevrolet was first, fourth and first respectively in practice this weekend and starts second for his eight front row starting spot in nine Barber tries.
I have to put him on this list. He won already this season at Phoenix and has been on top of his game at Barber. He’s a two-time Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, including both coming in the last three years. He finished third in his other start in between those wins.
Newgarden, was second, first and sixth respectively in his No. 1 Chevrolet in practice this weekend and will start on the pole.
Is this the year that Dixon finally gets a win in Barber. He’s won just about every where else on the INDYCAR schedule, except for here. It’s not like he hasn’t been close though. He has five runner-up finishes in Barber and seven top five finishes in eight tries. His No. 9 Honda was third, sixth and third respectively in the three practices sessions. He also qualified sixth.
On the season, Dixon has been quiet but also should have three top six finishes in each of the three races too. What happens when he has a better car like he’s had this weekend?
I can’t leave the current INDYCAR points leader off of here. He has an average finishing position of 2.8 this season and has had just one finish outside of the top six since last July. He won the last race last weekend in Long Beach and has been on the podium in all three races to start the 2018 season off overall.
Plus, we haven’t even raced on Rossi’s favorite tracks yet. Natural road courses like Barber are ones where he thrives on. He finished fifth here last year and was fifth in each of the last two practice sessions this weekend in his No. 27 Honda.
He starts eighth.
Its been a dismal start to the year for Simon Pagenaud. At St. Pete, he didn’t have the pace, but the last two race weekends he did. Unfortunately, a pit road problem in Phoenix and a first lap crash not of his doing last weekend at Phoenix left him with zero top five finishes through three races this year. That changes on Sunday though. Pagenaud, was sixth, 10th and seventh respectively in the three practices this weekend and has finished in the top 10 in every race he’s raced in at Barber. In fact, Pagenaud is a past winner here in 2016 and finished third a year ago. He has five top six results in his last six Barber starts.
Pagenaud rolls off ninth.
Watch out for his No. 22 Chevrolet on Sunday.
Sleepers Category –
Between he and Dixon, the duo have finished runner-up in every race with the exception of one at Barber. Rahal, has two runner-up efforts in his No. 15 Honda in the last three years. He’s ready for a win. The Ohio native is also off to his best start of any of his INDYCAR seasons and primed to contend for a win on Sunday.
He was in the top 12 of all three practice sessions too but starts 15th.
Its been a great start to the year for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver. He’s finished in the top 10 in all three races and has been a contender more times than not. Plus, SPM has led the most laps this season out of everyone as well. On top of that, Hinchcliffe has five top 10 finishes in his last six starts at Barber. He was 10th in practice on Saturday morning in his No. 5 Honda.
He’s a past winner at Barber too. In fact, he’s won twice (2013 and 2014). Hunter-Reay has three top five finishes in his last five Barber starts. Now, he wants to make up for his finishes in 2018. In all three races, he felt he should have finished higher up in the order. His No. 28 Honda has been quick this weekend too. He was 15th, seventh and fourth in the three practices.
He should have had three top 10 finishes to start the year off. In St. Pete, he brought his No. 10 Honda home eighth. Last weekend in Long Beach, he finished third. Sandwiched in between at Phoenix, he was running second with 21 laps-to-go, but crashed while trying to pass a lapped car.
So far this weekend, he’s been strong. Jones, was fifth in the first practice on Friday and has a car that Tony Kanaan has earned three top 10 finishes in during his final four starts at Barber with Ganassi.
He starts 12th.
Might as well throw a dollar or two at Chilton this weekend. He’s been very strong in practice, as he was fourth, 11th and 14th respectively. Plus, Chilton calls Barber one of his favorite tracks, as the natural road course races a lot like ones over in Europe. Chilton, grew up racing on tracks like that. With his quiet speed, he could steal a win away on strategy on Sunday.
He’ll roll off 13th.