Barber Preview: Newgarden’s Playground

The NTT Indycar Series heads to Birmingham for the 10th Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.  The 17 turn, 2.38 mile course  features beautifully landscaped hills and border areas with whimsical artwork scattered throughout the grounds. It is worth taking a tram ride around the entire facility to see everything.

Two things can always be expected at Barber- decent racing and rain. It seems as if rain falls at some point during the weekend every year. The forecast for this weekend calls for scattered showers and thunderstorms each day, with some breaks in the weather. The latest Sunday forecast as I write this is for late afternoon showers.

Rain is one of the storylines this weekend. Here are four things to look for.

Can Newgarden Win Three in a Row?

Josef Newgarden has turned what he considers his home track into his personal playground. He has won three of the last four races, including the last two. Will Power won two consecutive races in 2011 and 2012, and Ryan Hunter-Reay won back to back in 2013 and 2014. Newgarden is the first driver to win at Barber three times, and he can become to the first to win three in a row. His chances seem even better since Team Penske has won six of the ten races here.

The other championship contenders probably isn’t happy that Newgarden enters this race with an 18 point lead. He has a chance to significantly distance himself from the rest of the field.

Does Rossi Begin His Challenge for the Title?

Alexander Rossi had a difficult time at St. Pete with a car that wasn’t quite on pace, but he still managed a fifth place finish. At COTA he qualified second and was heading for a runner-up finish behind Will Power when they were both caught out by the late caution. Rossi salvaged ninth place.

Rossi is 40 points behind Newgarden, which is really not that far back at this point in the season, but he needs a podium and to finish ahead of Newgarden. Rossi was masterful at Long Beach in 2018, so he will have a chance to make up a lot of ground next weekend.

Will Indy Lights Wins Help Herta and O’Ward?

Colton Herta, winner of the COTA Indycar Classic, and Patricio O’Ward have won at Barber in Indy Lights. O’Ward won bot Lights races last season. How much will their experience help them this weekend? Both had strong showings at COTA. In addition to winning, Herta made the Fast Six and O’Ward advanced to round 2 of qualifying, starting eighth. I think both rookies will have good weekends again.

We can’t forget about the other rookies, Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson. The Swedish pair have done a great job to date, although contact and mechanical issues have seen them drop in the standings. They stiil could contend for a top ten this weekend.

The R Word

This was race day at Barber last year:

wp-15543260678727616567479605581005.jpgThe forecast looks as if there might be rain during the race, which would be an improvement. It will make for some interesting strategy. Newgarden won the rain postponed race last year when Tim Cindric called him in for rain tires before the rain began while Sebastien Bourdais tried to finish on the black primary tires.

The former Formula 1 drivers- Bourdais, Rossi, Ericsson, and Takuma Sato- along with Rosenqvist and Ben Hanley-likely have more experience driving in the rain. The weather could help them. At any rate, it should be an interesting Sunday afternoon.

Totally inaccurate predictions:

Pole- Newgarden

Winner-Rosenqvist

Cautions-0 if it doesn’t rain; 3 if it does

I will be on site beginning Thursday. While I will mainly be reporting for Wildfire Sports, I will still post my quick thoughts and possibly a couple other items here. Please check Wildfire Sports beginning Friday for my full Race Weekend reports.

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