Race Weekend Central

IndyCar Preview – Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

What’s News?

The only down side to being the last race before the month of May is that most of the attention is already shifting to Indianapolis, who is going to make an appearance and with what team and who might be fast and how will the rookies do…ah, but before we get there, we still have one more event to contest in April. There are several drivers and storylines that will come into play in Alabama.

Will Power has taken a new approach to things this year. After coming up short three times in three years and then having a year that saw him struggle in points last year, Power has decided to worry less about the championship and more about winning each race.

Has Will Power established himself as the 2014 championship favorite?
Has Will Power established himself as the 2014 championship favorite?

has Will Power established himself as the 2014 championship favorite?

“Last year, not being in the points chase, really opened my eyes that I was being way too conservative,” said Power,. “I had spent three years being very conservative, feeling the points. Actually taught me you just need to race hard no matter what. In fact, the results came a lot better when I did that. (Now) I can race hard all the time; it doesn’t matter where I am in the points. You have 18 races; apart from the big ovals, they all count for the same amount of points. You’ve just got to always be out there, knocking on the door. I think that’s the only way you’re going to win a championship.”

The strategy has paid off, at least so far. Power has two top two finishes through two races, good for the points lead.

Meanwhile, one of Power’s biggest competitors, reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, will be trying to figure out how to get that one more step up the podium. Dixon has finished second in all four races the series has run at Barber Motorsports track. Only one other driver in the past 50 years has managed to finish second at the same track four races in a row. And that driver was Scott Dixon, at Chicagoland Speedway.

The Track: Barber Motorsports Park

After two temporary road circuits, the Verizon IndyCar Series will take it’s first laps around a permanent road course at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama this weekend. The track is a 17-turn, 2.38-mile permanent road course. Race distance will be 90 laps for 214.2 miles. This will be the series’ fifth visit to the track. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the defending race winner and was also last year’s pole winner. Team Penske has won the other three races on the circuit, with Will Power being the only driver to win multiple events with victories in 2011 and 2012. Helio Castroneves took home the first trophy in 2010.

Television coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network with radio coverage on the IMS Radio Network and also on XM 211/Sirius 211.

What’s the Points? Drivers

Will Power has a win and a second place finish after two events, putting him at the top of the drivers standings. This bodes well for a driver who has won two of the previous four events at Barber Motorsports Park. Could Power be on target to make another run at the championship this year? Long Beach winner Mike Conway sits second, 27 in arrears, with Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounding out the top five. It’s still early though so expect a lot of position changes before drivers settle in.

What’s the Points? Engines

With just two manufacturers in the fight, INDYCAR added some new dimensions to the manufacturers points this year, with points going out for wins, poles, and most laps led. So how is it shaking out so far? Chevrolet leads Honda, 247 to 142 after two events. Chevy has taken both wins so far while Honda has both poles. The two have split the most laps led points over the two events.

Driver To Watch

Juan Pablo Montoya made a significant improvement between St. Petersburg and Long Beach as he settled in with team and car and came home fourth last time out. This week he’ll see a familiar circuit as the team tested at Barber in March. Team Penske has also scored the wins in three of the four races held on the track, with current teammate Power claiming two victories and Castroneves one, so they know how to get around this circuit. Could this be the week it all comes together and Montoya returns to winning form?

Other News:

OK, so it’s impossible not to jump ahead just a little bit to news coming along for Indy in May, although the first bit has to do with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Andretti Autosport has announced they will field a fifth car in the road course race for French driver Franck Montagny. Montagny drove for the team for one race in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2009. He will drive the No. 26 car, and entry which the team will also field in the Indy 500 for Kurt Busch.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has announced sponsorship from Dollar General for the car the team will field for Jacques Villeneuve in the Indy 500. Villeneuve finished second in the 500 in 1994 and won it in 1995. He will participate in a refresher orientation session at the track on April 29.

Who Ya Got?

Will Power. He’s off to a roaring start, he likes this track, and he’s got two of the four previous victories here. Huston Ladner is picking Ryan Hunter-Reay to flex some Andretti Autosport muscle while Matt Stallknecht goes with another powerhouse team and gives the nod to defending series champion Scott Dixon. Did we mention that Dixon has finished second in all four previous races at Barber Motorsports Park?

What’s Next?

It’s May and the Verizon IndyCar Series heads off to Indianapolis of course. Only it’s not quite what we’re all used to at first. Instead of diving into the big oval and working on set ups for those sometimes seemingly never-ending qualifying attempts, things are going to happen a little differently this year. The first thing on tap will be the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the revamped Indy infield road course. Tune in on Saturday, May 10, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC to kick off the month of May in Indy in a new way.

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