Let the Season Begin-A Welcome Return to Barber

Photo: Takuma Sato heads to Barber as defending pole and race winner. Joe Skibinski, Indycar

It is Race Week at Last. The NTT Indycar Series is set to begin the 2021 season Sunday at barber motorsports Park near Birmingham. 24 cars will take the green flag at 3:42 pm EDT. The race is on NBC.

The track has set a limit of 20,000 spectators a day. In addition to each fan having a ticket, each vehicle must have a parking pass. As will be the norm at nearly all events this year, fans will not have paddock or pit access. The trams will still be running, but with a smaller capacity.

I am excited to get back to Barber. This year’s race is later in April than the 2018 and 2019 events, which means the extensive plant life will be blooming.

In 2020 this race fell victim to the pandemic. It was scheduled to be the second race of the year. For the first time in its history, Barber opens the season. Several teams have tested here this winter. It will be the first race at this track for last year’s rookies Rinus Veekay and Alex Palou.

I don’t expect the year’s hiatus to affect team performances much. Indycar has raced at barber since 20210, and the teams have extensive information about setups for this track. What will we see this weekend?

Josef Newgarden testing at Barber. Indycar photo by Joe Skibinski

Is This Still Newgarden’s Track?

Josef Newgarden is the only three time winner at barber, his last win coming in 2018. Team pensk has won six times, winning three races in a row on two different occasions. A seventh win is not out of the question. Will Power has won the pole four times here, adding to Team penske’s mastery of the track. However, in 2019 Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing dominated with a front row sweep in qualifying and a convincing victory by pole winner Takuma Sato. early mechanical trouble by Graham Rahal prevented what might have been 1-2 sweep.

Scott Dixon has never won at Barber. he has been on the podium eight times, six of those as runner-up. Could this be his breakthrough year and his 51st career win?

Andretti Autosport has won twice with Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has a consistent record of top 10 finishes.

Arrow McLaren SP and Pato O’Ward are looking to contend for the championship in 2021 and want to make a strong opening statement. I think O’Ward will be a factor this weekend. Somewhat overlooked in all the buzz about O’Ward has been his teammate Felix Rosenqvist. Rosenqvist edged O’Ward in a stirring duel for the win at road america Race 2 last season.

Rookies

Eyes will be on how the veteran “rookies” do. Television eyes might focus on just one, but keep an eye on Scott McLaughlin. The Australian Supercars champion is going to surprise some folks with how ell he does.

How will Romain Grosjean’s Formula 1 experience translate to Indycar? Barber should be one of his better tracks this season. If he can get through the flying start, I think he will have a good race.

Jimmie Johnson will get the bulk of the attention. The seven time NASCAR champion says he plans to take things slowly, but we will see. Johnson has worked jard to prepare for his Indycar debut. I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in his results this weekend, but we’ll see how he’s doing after Road America, which will be his sixth race.

Notes

Mark Miles talked yesterday about the situation in Toronto. Canada is still having a difficult time with COVID-19. He is waiting as long as he can to make a decision. Miles thoughts about moving or replacing the race::

“If not, I don’t think there will be much opportunity to move it. The rest of the schedule is pretty full and there’s so much going on in Toronto, and that street race requires a lot of planning.

If we needed to, I think the most likely step would be a double-header on a weekend we’re already scheduled. I won’t speculate at this point as to which one it would be, but I don’t think — we wouldn’t be looking at putting a different race in that date. We’d be looking at adding one on a weekend we’re already scheduled and planning to execute.”

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