Random Thoughts On Barber

Rain or shine, it really didn’t matter to Josef Newgarden. The pole-sitter for this past weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama took control from the very start in Sunday’s downpour. When the race resumed in dry conditions yesterday, he checked out again. He was the first to pit for wet tires, when the rain returned yesterday with fourteen minutes remaining. It turned out to be the right call as he opened up a twenty-three second lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay before slowing down in the closing laps to preserve a well-earned victory.

With the win in Monday’s race, Newgarden becomes the first driver to win multiple times this season. He also re-captured the points lead that he surrendered to Alexander Rossi at Long Beach.

Newgarden’s win put a period on what was a very frustrating weekend for everyone. Friday and Saturday could not have been better at Barber Motorsports Park. The weather was absolutely perfect, both days and Susan and I had a blast while we were down there. But the weatherman nailed the forecast for Sunday, and it was a miserable day as promised.

Sunday produced twenty-three wet laps that saw Charlie Kimball and Will Power leave the track with damaged cars, while Newgarden opened up a sizeable lead before Race Control made what I thought was the right call to postpone the race – even though that meant I would have to watch the DVR Monday night from home to see how it played out.

When the race resumed on Monday, the sun was shining but there appeared to be ominous-looking clouds in the forecast. Newgarden checked out again, but there were some interesting battles going on behind him. Although he had been assessed a two-lap penalty on Sunday for his team working on his car during the red-flag period; Zachary Claman De Melo was driving like his car was on fire. He was passing some of the faster cars in the field, in places where passing is not very easy. He and Spencer Pigot tangled early in the race and I thought both were going to get taken out. But they both drifted into each other and managed to keep going. If this is an example of what to expect from the part-time Canadian rookie, I look forward to the races when he is in the cockpit of the No.19 Dale Coyne Racing car.

It was interesting to see who was on which type of pit strategy. Some drivers opted for a two-stop race giving them the ability to go all out, while others decided to pursue a one-stop strategy. Had the rain not come, the podium may have looked different. I think Newgarden would have won regardless, but instead of Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe ending up on the podium – we may have seen Sébastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon flanking Newgarden on the podium.

But when the rains came with less than twenty minutes to go in the timed race, that pretty well ended the dreams of a win for those teams on a one-stop strategy. For a while it looked like Bourdais may be able to manage on the slicks, while most drivers had already gone to the wet tires. One by one, all of his competitors pitted for the rain tires as Bourdais continued to hold on. In the end, it was raining too much for Bourdais and he had to concede his lead in favor of wet tires. Dixon and Bourdais were left to battle it out for fifth at the end of the race, with Bourdais getting the position by a narrow margin.

It’s fitting that this year’s race at Barber would finish in the rain. After sitting around all afternoon on Sunday waiting for a decision, then driving back to Nashville Sunday night in a three-hour deluge – it just seemed right that rain would be falling when the checkered flag finally fell on this event.

TV Coverage: I can only give a half-summary of NBCSN’s coverage, because I have not yet watched any of Saturday’s or Sunday’s coverage of the race, since we were actually down there.

Quite honestly, I thought that given what they had to work with – Monday’s coverage was superb. Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell both agreed on what they thought tire strategies should be, and they both gave insight to their experiences of racing in the rain.

I also thought that Monday was one of Leigh Diffey’s best races. While he got to his over-zealous voice peak a couple of times, the situation dictated it. He never came across as over-the-top.

I thought the pit-reporters all did good jobs, although I miss Jon Beekhuis on the NBCSN broadcasts. He apparently fills in when Marty Snider does NASCAR races, so I guess we’ll be seeing Jon in the summer – although he will be on the remaining ABC telecasts from Indianapolis and Belle Isle.

I did happen to catch Kevin Lee’s now-famous interview with James Hinchcliffe on Sunday in the Media Center, while we were waiting out the red flag. For those that didn’t see it, Hinch confessed that he um…relieved himself in his fire suit after the first red flag, when they did not allow drivers to get out of their car. I wonder how that extra weight affected the handling of the car. I saw on social media where some took offense to all the attention being paid to the interview and its topic. Personally, I thought it was funny.

Another rainy Barber weekend: We love going to Barber. We’ve been to all nine IndyCar races there and plan to keep going back for years to come. But it seems to be too associated with rain. More times than not, it seems at least one day in the three-day race weekend at barber is marred by rain – and I don’t mean drizzles, I mean downpours. Once it rains hard, the on-site parking lot becomes a quagmire that usually sees several cars getting stuck in the Alabama mud.

I like the fact that the race runs in April. That usually makes for pretty dogwoods, azaleas and lush green trees, although the azaleas and dogwoods had already bloomed this spring and the blossoms were already gone. But an April race in the south is going to run a strong chance of having some rain. I would like to know the last time an IndyCar race at Barber did not have any rain during the three-day weekend. I’m sure it’s happened, but I can’t say when.

Foyt woes: After three race weekends to open the season when AJ Foyt Enterprises exceeded expectations, they threw in a clunker this weekend. After three practice sessions, the two Foyt cars had put up the twentieth and twenty-first fastest times in a twenty-three car field. It got worse. Tony Kanaan crashed in Round One qualifying and started twenty-third. Teammate Matheus Leist didn’t crash but still managed to qualify twenty-first.

Leist actually had his best finish in his young IndyCar career, when he finished twelfth on Sunday. Kanaan was penalized Monday for unapproved pit service, but I’m not sure why. Things never improved for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and he finished two laps down in eighteenth.

Was this weekend just a blip in an otherwise good season, or did Foyt get out to a surprise start and they are now sinking back to reality? I guess we are about to find out in the next month.

Penske woes: Yes, Josef Newgarden has won two of the four races this season and is the championship points leader. But his Team Penske teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have both gotten off to terrible starts. Power is currently tenth in points and sits lower than Marco Andretti and rookie Robert Wickens. It’s even worse for Pagenaud, who is fifteenth in points.

The season still has three-fourths of the year to go, but Power and Pagenaud are quickly working themselves into a hole they’re not going to be able to crawl out of – while their young teammate is already positioning himself for a run at a second consecutive championship. I wonder if Power and Pagenaud are missing Helio.

Good day for RLLR: One of the quieter teams of the weekend was Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Their drivers, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato, had been very unremarkable throughout the weekend. Rahal qualified fifteenth quickest and sato qualified eighteenth after a weekend of being mostly anonymous.

But on Monday, they both had good days and moved up through the field. Rahal finished seventh and Sato came home in eighth – not spectacular, but a lot better than they had been the rest of the weekend. Rahal sits tied for third place in the championship picture. Hopefully both can use Barber as a springboard for momentum heading into the Month of May.

Joe’s Place: Over the course of a driver’s career, sometimes they become synonymous with certain tracks: like AJ Foyt at Indianapolis, Rodger Ward at Trenton, Al Unser, Jr. at Long Beach and Michael Andretti at Toronto. If Josef Newgarden keeps up this pace, he will be permanently linked to the scenic course that is Barber Motorsports Park. Newgarden has won the last two IndyCar races there and three of the last four. He is the only three-time winner in the short nine-year history of the event.

People keep referring to Barber as Josef’s home track because it is only three hours from his home here in Nashville. If you’re going to follow that logic, I’m hoping that he can apply that to the second-closest track to his Nashville home – Indianapolis.

All in all: Was this the best time going to a Verizon IndyCar Series race in person? No. That distinction belongs to our 2015 trip to NOLA, which was run in much soggier conditions than we saw Sunday. NOLA would not have been much better in dry conditions. It was just a weird track and event. But this weekend was up there, but strictly due to Sunday’s weather

But I’m not complaining. I was at a race track and I was dry. I was just wanting to see some racing.

Well, I finally saw the racing on Monday night and it was good. Not great, but good. But there were enough different strategies in play to keep things interesting. When the rain showed up, things got real interesting.

But Josef Newgarden had the fastest car and made the best decisions. Like Rossi at Long Beach, he was in a class all by himself. Regardless of what went on with Bourdais, Dixon or anyone else – this was Josef Newgarden’s race, and he took it.

From here, it’s on to the Month of May. There is testing at IMS for three days next week and then practice for the IndyCar Grand Prix begins on Friday May 11. Is it May yet? It’s about to be.

George Phillips

Please Note:  With Sunday’s race being moved to Monday, it kind of messed up my schedule here for the rest of this week. Therefore there will be no post here on Wednesday April 25, but I will return here on Friday April 27. – GP

12 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Barber”

  1. Hmmm, we’re thinking of coming over in ’20 and include this race in our vacation schedule. I’d be bummed if it was rained off. I didn’t realise it had a ‘wet’ history…..

  2. Hey George, wasn’t all of that urine already inside Hinch’s bladder before he transferred it to his uniform? I mean, where would extra weight come from? Only if someone dumped liquid in his cockpit during the red flag would there have been any weight added to the car…..

  3. I thought that Barber was another very interesting race and lived up to what I think is, for me, another terrific event in Alabama. The weather played a huge factor, as George pointed out, and it took some nerve for Cindric to call Newgarden in early for “rain tires” as it did for Coyne and Bourdais staying out with his dry tires and going for the win. Sebastian Bourdais has the heart of a champion and my hat is off to him, Dale Coyne and the Coyne team as well. if there was any consolation for Bourdais I guess it was holding off Dixon. Not much, though.

    Cheers for RHR and Graham Rahal!!!

  4. Hal Bush Says:

    Is Simon Pagenaud always going to blame his woes on someone else or will he step up? I am getting tired of his putting the blame for his finishes on another driver.

  5. S0CSeven Says:

    SPM still don’t get no respect here.

    BTW, I was under the impression that the drivers of all long races wore adult sized …um … diapers for just these eventualities. Especially NASCAR.

  6. I enjoy the comic “relief” (pardon the pun) like we heard from Hinch on Sunday; it reminds me of silliness revealed under NASCAR red flags. At Michigan in 2001, superstitions came up, and Wally Dallenbach Jr revealed that he ran really well in a race while wearing his wife’s underwear (his were dirty, I guess)! Brings out the human side of the drivers.

  7. Hinchcliffe provided IndyCar the “cross-over” coverage it wanted. even my mother asked me what happened. reminds me of a similar situation when the woman soccer player tore off her shirt. that was
    on every channel.

  8. I don’t mean this as a negative, but did anyone notice that Robin Miller seems off? He seems to be struggling with his words. I don’t know that he is 100% yet but I noticed he seems to be off.

    Also, arg, I can’t remember what it was but there was something PT said that made me question if he understood how the rules worked. He has done it before also, like when Dixon was coming to the white at Phoenix and he was hoping they could have a GWC finish. I will have to rewatch the event to see if I can find it.

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