Race Weekend Central

IndyCar Recap: Barber Motorsports Park

In A Nutshell: Ryan Hunter-Reay put together a demonstrative qualifying effort and used his pole position to keep his car out front and take the victory. After a lap 1 crash, nary a yellow flag emerged, with the race holding green the rest of the way and drivers adopting varying strategies on stops, tires, and fuel conservation. Scott Dixon must have conflicting feelings leaving Barber after taking the second spot for a fourth consecutive time – must be great to have confidence knowing he races well there, but coupled with frustration. Helio Castroneves rounded out the podium with a solid effort, which marks a strong open to the season for the Brazilian.

Key Moment: Hmm, aside from the dustup that occurred on the first lap, the race did not really hold what could be considered a key moment. What became evident, however, was the importance of clean pit stops. With little passing on the track, the easiest way to gain ground was on pit lane, and just a little hiccup made all the difference. There seemed to be confusion or gaffes in this area, and one needs only watch as how Simona de Silvestro fell with a simple botch.

Highlight Reel – For the early portion of the race, Hunter-Reay cruised off to a substantial lead with any battles for position happening way back. After its midpoint, there seemed to be more crowding at the front as Charlie Kimball, Will Power, and Castroneves all led laps. That Dixon and Hunter-Reay would get to a point where they raced within tenths of one another illustrates how strategy and smart driving can still lead to a decent finish without a score of yellow flags.

– Oh boy, not a good way to start the season for Mr. Franchitti. With a forgettable first race that ended with him crashing into a wall – a move he fessed up to as being his own mistake – Dario endured another miserable day when he coasted to the pits and retired with another one of those mechanical gremlins that have been working their way through IndyCar.

– It’s hard to know whether Will Power’s fifth-place finish is spectacular or lame. Having won the last two iterations of the race at Barber, Power has set a standard of excellence that must be difficult to maintain. With a glitch at the opening, Power fell back as low as eighth and was never a true factor to win. That he and his team developed and kept a different strategy that earned him his top-5 finish was rather crafty. Though surely unsatisfying for him, the result surely felt better than his 16th at St. Petersburg.

– Holy moly, what’s that on the score sheets? Marco Andretti with a third in the first race and a seventh at Barber? Can this be right? Is he actually maturing into a decent driver? Might he be rounding into form as one of the drivers to watch? It may be too early to say yes just yet, but there are some good signs.

– The much bally-hooed return of A.J. Allmendinger to open-wheel racing could be described in one word: Meh. Wild and aggressive to start the race, he held his own in the top 10 for the first half. The second half featured a slip-up on pit lane and a car that fell out of favor, with Allmendinger finishing a distant 19th. Just getting behind the wheel is a win for him, but seeing how he does at Long Beach will be an interesting barometer of performance expectations.

– The Barber track is both interesting and picturesque, but it’d be beneficial to do something to it that might encourage some passing zones. Not sure how to accomplish that aspect, but it would certainly help out the racing product.

Few quick notes: Congrats to Simon Pagenaud on his 6th place finish, showing that he’s not suffering from a sophomore jinx. Josef Newgarden held his own taking the ninth spot and Tristan Vautier continued to show his abilities with a 10th-place finish.

Notable Driver: Charlie Kimball. It’s hard to remember or recognize that Kimball drives for the Chip Ganassi as he has been thoroughly overshadowed by his teammates Dixon and Franchitti. Left off in his own world, Kimball has been a somewhat middling driver for the past two years, seemingly ignored and left to the organizational abyss. Not anymore. Kimball’s fourth-place run Sunday was the best of his career, and though it’s early, has him sitting sixth in points. On a day when the Ganassi cars sported blue wheels in support of Diabetes awareness, Kimball’s finish serves as a complement to it (the only driver who has the disease). It’s also a possible omen for a good season.

Notable Driver – Pt. 2: James Hinchcliffe. Coming off the high of his first victory in Indycar two weeks ago, Hinchcliffe brought a wonderful attitude and sense of ease with him to the track for Barber. Good thing – for most other people would have gotten out of the car with far less composure than he did after sitting on the track waiting to rejoin the race for over 70 laps. 70 freakin’ laps! Most people get irate by after sitting in the KFC drive-in for too long, but Hinchtown got out of the car, gave a comical stretch, and still used his sense of humor when giving interviews later.

Quotes and Twitterings:
Ryan Hunter-Reay ‏‪@ RyanHunterReay
Thank you all for the messages. Big win today, BIG. Really had to work for that one. Just now outta my race suit after media etc. Starving!

IZOD IndyCar Series ‏‪@ IndyCar‪ scottdixon9 says he's going to buy a bridesmaid's dress after finishing 2nd ‪ BarberMotorPark again! ‪#HIGPA ‪#IndyCar

Marco Andretti ‏@ MarcoAndretti
Congrats @ RyanHunterReay and good job to my team for the effort. Our day will come soon.

What’s Next: The IZOD IndyCar series takes a one week break and heads off to the left coast and all its nuttiness for the Long Beach Grand Prix. This race has ascended into one of the premier events on the schedule and is usually a wild affair. The NBC Sports Network will be airing it live, beginning at 4 ET on April 21. While it’d be hard to say that after that race, there will be a clear-cut understanding of the championship picture, it is not too much to say that there will be enough knowledge to know who won’t be contending.

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