Track: Barber Motorsports Park
Race: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Date: April 23, 2017
No. 1 Menards Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Simon Pagenaud
Laps Completed: 90/90
Laps Led: 0
Points Position: 4th (-11)
Recap: Simon Pagenaud began Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series (VICS) Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from a strong third-place position. A collision between the cars of James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter Reay brought out a caution on the second lap of the race. Pagenaud and the No. 1 Menards Chevrolet fell to the fourth position after the action-packed opening laps and he ran firmly in that spot until light contact with the car of Zach Veach led to a pit stop on Lap 20 for black Firestone tires and fuel. The reigning VICS champion raced in the fifth position before his second pit stop of the day on Lap 45 when the Menards Chevy took sticker red tires and fuel as the race passed the halfway point. On Lap 50, Pagenaud reclaimed fourth place and he held that spot until the second caution flag of the day waved on Lap 63 when Spencer Pigot spun off course. After the race restart, Pagenaud slotted into fifth place but he gained two positions over the final laps when Charlie Kimball came to pit lane and Will Power had to address a deflating tire. The 2016 race winner at Barber Motorsports Park, Pagenaud took the checkered flag in third place for his fourth top-five finish in seven races at the Birmingham, Alabama track. It also marked the first podium finish of the season for Pagenaud, who travels to the first oval race of 2017 next week at Phoenix International Raceway ranked fourth in the point standings.
Quote: “It’s been a good weekend for the No. 1 Menards Chevrolet. We unfortunately carried a penalty from Long Beach. So starting every qualifying session and practice at the back of the pack puts you in a bad rhythm. So I’m very happy we were able to transform that into good qualifying results, and also a good result in the end of the race. It was pretty eventful. At the start of the race, I feel like we were a little too aggressive with the racecar. We adjusted. At the end, it was really good. I saved quite a bit of fuel at the end to make it. Anyway, it was the right strategy. We finished third. I wish I could have gone for it because I had some pace in the car, but we just couldn’t use it. Overall a great weekend for Team Penske. A win. I feel sorry for Will. It was definitely his race to win. The No. 2 team did a tremendous job, it’s great for them.”
No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Josef Newgarden
Finish: 1st (4th career Verizon IndyCar Series victory)
Laps Completed: 90/90
Laps Led: 14
Points Position: 3rd (-7 pts.)
Recap: It took just three races and perhaps a little good fortune for Josef Newgarden to find Victory Lane as a Team Penske driver. The 26-year-old native of Hendersonville, Tennessee, claimed the race lead when teammate Will Power was forced to pit road on Lap 77 for a deflating left rear tire and Newgarden led the final 14 laps to score both his and the team’s first Verizon IndyCar Series win of the season. Newgarden and the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet rolled off the grid seventh in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Alabama after a tire strategy gamble did not yield the results the team had hoped for in Saturday’s qualifying session. As a result, race engineer and Alabama native Brian Campe, along with strategist Tim Cindric, devised a game plan to be a little different from what they believed the rest of the field would employ. Newgarden started the race on Firestone primary black tires while most started with the alternate red tires, but the Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy was still able to reach the top five before the first caution flag of the day flew on Lap 3. That performance proved valuable later on as Newgarden was equally as quick on both tire compounds. Another key moment came when Newgarden got past Scott Dixon with a strong move just after the final pit stop of the day. Once Power headed to pit lane to address the tire issue, it was just a matter of holding off Dixon for Newgarden, which he was able to do and crossed the finish line just over a second in front of the veteran racer and former series champion. Sunday’s result marked Newgarden’s second career win at Barber and the fourth of his INDYCAR career. He became the 47th driver to win for team owner Roger Penske while picking up overall team win number 449. The victory propelled Newgarden into third place in the season standings, now just seven points off the pace of series leader Sebastien Bourdais.
Quote: “Today’s race had it all. You had to save fuel, save tires and be fast. That’s how the racing has been at Barber. It’s such a great track. If I were a spectator, this is a place where I’d want to see a race. It was such a great day for the Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet. For them to get a win in their first time on an Indy car is pretty special. I feel terrible for what happened to Will (Power). Those things happen in this sport. I’ve been on the wrong side of these more than the right, so I’ll take it if you want to call it lucky. I think it could have been a whale of a race had Will not had the problem, but as it turned out I only needed to hold off (Scott) Dixon. I’m so proud of my team. We had a great car all weekend and we stayed the course and brought it home. All of the Team Penske cars were great this weekend.”
No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Helio Castroneves
Laps Completed: 90/90
Laps Led: 2
Points Position: 6th (-33 pts.)
Recap: Consistency is a key ingredient in the championship-winning recipe and Helio Castroneves, along with his No. 3 AAA Insurance Chevrolet team, are perfecting the formula. On Sunday, Castroneves ran a strong, clean race to produce his third consecutive top-10 finish to start the season as he earned his top result so far in 2017. Despite starting from the outside pole position, Castroneves did not overextend the car on Sunday but he ran a cool, calculated, smart race that brought a solid result. There were opportunities for the three-time Indy 500 winner to perhaps push the envelope a bit, but the cagy veteran took what was available to maximize his opportunities. Early on, Castroneves fell back a few positions in the running order but he maintained a spot inside the top 10 as the No. 3 team continued to improve the performance of the AAA Insurance Chevy. In the end, Castroneves, the 2010 Barber race winner, finished fourth to continue the strong start to his 20th season of competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Castroneves now sits sixth in the championship standings, 33 points behind the leader, Sebastien Bourdais. Sunday’s result was the 133rd top-five finish in Castroneves’ 330 career series starts.
Quote: “The AAA Chevy was really good today. We started on the front row but unfortunately tire degradation was a challenge for us, but we kept right there in the top five with a little bit of luck on the yellows. But we basically had a great weekend. We ran a smart race and now we move on to Phoenix and see what happens there.”
No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Will Power
Start: 1st (46th Verizon IndyCar Series career pole position)
Laps Completed: 90/90
Laps Led: 60
Points Position: 14th (-67)
Recap: Despite a dominant performance for much of Sunday’s race at Barber Motorsports Park, the result was challenging for Will Power and the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team as a late race tire issue left them with a 14th-place finish. The former series champion started the race at the front of the field and he led much of the first half of Sunday’s event. Looking strong from the drop of the green flag, Power led the first 20 laps before coming to pit lane for his first stop of the day on Lap 21. He reclaimed the lead just four laps later as pit stops cycled through. He made his second pit stop on Lap 44 and once again moved back to the point on Lap 45. A two-time winner at Barber, Power continued to run well out in front of the field. After the second full-course caution of the afternoon, Power visited the pits on lap 64 for black primary tires and fuel. Power returned to the race lead when on Lap 75 when Charlie Kimball, who was on an alternate strategy, headed to pit lane. But just one lap later the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team noticed that a tire was losing pressure. Power tried to tell the team he could deal with the deflating tire and remain on track but the issue began to worsen and the Verizon Chevy drove to pit lane for an unscheduled stop on Lap 77 to replace the tires. Power’s misfortune allowed teammate Josef Newgarden to take the lead and eventually the victory. Power was a victim of circumstance and despite leading 60 laps of Sunday’s 90-lap race he was left with a 14th-place finish after he returned to the track. With the 2017 season off to a rough start, Power and the Verizon team look ahead to next Saturday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway as they try to build on the two pole positions won this season and produce a solid race result to get back into the championship hunt.
Quote: “It was a great day, a great weekend for the Verizon Chevrolet. Everything was going really well. We had a fantastic car. Unfortunately with the tire going down, we had no choice but to pit. But man, the car was so good but we couldn’t do anything about it.”
Next Race: The Verizon IndyCar Series heads west again for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway in Avon, Arizona, on Saturday, April 29. Race coverage will begin at 9 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network and the IndyCar Radio Network.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!