Race Weekend Central

Honda Grand Prix of Alabama Preview

Josef Newgarden has a chance to make his own history at the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. 

The three-time Birmingham winner will look to score the first hat-trick of his career (three consecutive wins) when the NTT IndyCar Series returns to Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, May 1st (NBC, 1 p.m. ET). 

Team Penske, however, has already scored a hat-trick this season, as they are the only organization to visit victory lane thus far in 2022. Scott McLaughlin won the season-opener at St. Petersburg. 

Now they head to a track where Penske historically has performed the best. They have won four of the last six races. 

Furthermore, Chip Ganassi Racing has been the closest threat to Penske through the first three races this season. Of the top five in points, it has been Penske vs. Ganassi, with Newgarden (118 points) and McLaughlin (113 points) occupying the top two positions, Palou (103 points) and 2014 series champion Will Power (102 points) taking third and fourth, with six-time titlist Scott Dixon (83 points) rounding out the top five, respectively. 

At last year’s event, Alex Palou led 56 of the 90 laps en route to scoring his first career series win in his first start with Chip Ganassi Racing, edging two-time Birmingham victor Will Power and teammate Scott Dixon, who, despite 50 career wins, has never tasted victory lane in Alabama. The six-time series champion has six tracks on the schedule where he has yet to win: St. Petersburg, Birmingham, Iowa, Nashville, Portland, and Laguna Seca. 

WHO TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND?

Newgarden is riding a massive wave of momentum and has to be considered the odds-on favorite. However, if we recall, the two-time series champion did wreck on the opening lap a year ago after he got loose cresting the hill at the top of turn four. The mistake proved to be costly as the carnage that ensued collected the likes of Colton Herta, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Felix Rosenqvist, Rinus VeeKay, and Max Chilton. Those of you who are the betting type should heed the warning: Anything can happen at any moment. Despite the mistake, expect all three Penske cars to be fast and contend for the win.

Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean is coming off a career-best second at Long Beach for his fourth podium since moving to IndyCar from Formula One a year ago. He has outperformed teammate Alexander Rossi in all three events this year, albeit engine and battery issues plagued both drivers at Texas.

Another significant part of racing is the redemption factor. Colton Herta already holds a piece of IndyCar history, becoming its youngest race winner (18 years, 11 months, 25 days) with his 2019 triumph at Circuit of The Americas. However, his 2022 campaign has not been a stellar one. While he started the season with a fourth at St. Petersburg, a subpar performance at Texas followed by an overaggression-induced accident at Long Beach has left the hotshot 22-year-old outside of the top 10 in points. To boot, Herta’s theme song has certainly not been “Sweet Home Alabama” at BMP.

In two races, Herta has failed to finish both, and none have been of his own making. Fuel pressure issues forced his retirement from the 2019 running; COVID-19 ruined the 2020 Grand Prix, and last year he was a victim of lap one calamity. Herta has all the talent in the world but is prone to making critical mistakes late in races. But he’s still young and has impeccable talent. Don’t count him out from having a solid rebound in the Yellowhammer State. 

Finally, we look at Arrow McLaren SP, who, like their Formula 1 countrymen, haven’t had a great start to the season. But Patricio O’Ward, who won two races a year ago, could have a breakthrough performance. He scored the pole at Alabama a year ago and led 25 laps before finishing fourth behind a twosome of Penske and Ganassi cars. Strategic and pit road errors have primarily led to their competitive absence through the first three races. O’Ward, though, powered his way through to provide his team with their first top five finish of the season with a P5 at Long Beach. 

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