Barber Preview

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As you read this, Mrs. Oilpressure and I are on our way to Barber Motorsports Park, near Birmingham, for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Excluding the COVID-cancelled race in 2020, the NTT IndyCar Series has been coming to Barber every year since 2010. Consequently, we have been coming every year as well – including the Spring Training they held at Barber in March of 2009.

Until the Music City Grand Prix came to Nashville last summer, Barber was the closest race to our home in Nashville. But that’s not the only reason we come. It has become one of our favorite races on the schedule. The term “Beautiful Facility” has almost become a punch-line these days, since everyone used that phrase to describe the venue during the first couple of seasons. Guess what – it lives up to that title.

If you watched and of The Masters a couple of weeks ago, the landscaping may look familiar – although Barber is on a much smaller scale than Augusta National. Still, if you’re not seeing cars right in front of you, you might have to remind yourself that you are at a race track. The lush green hills are filled with dogwoods and manicured azaleas. We had a late spring in Nashville this year, and our dogwoods and azaleas just started coming out about a week ago. I’m hopeful that three hours due south of us won’t make a huge difference.

This is the latest this race has ever run. Race Day has always been in April, but one year it ran on Sunday April 1, meaning that practice and qualifying days were in March. You could tell, because it was downright cold that year. Even worse, none of the trees or flowers had blossomed and the grass was still brown. This year, The forecast is looking like sun and low-80s, so fingers are crossed.

The manicured flower beds are only one attraction. The main one is the track. It is a fourteen turn road course with an eighty-foot change in elevation. The first turn is a sharp left-hander that drops considerably – enough to probably make your stomach drop if you don’t know it’s coming. Immediately after the drop, Turns Two and Three combine to make a low-speed sweeping right-hander before climbing back up the hill. There is a hairpin in Turn Five that presents one of the key passing zones. It’s back and forth, and up and down pretty much all through the 2.366 mile lap, before it all starts all over again.

Barber Map

The first couple of years for this race were not great. Passing was at a premium, which is a nice way of saying there was very little. But when the DW-12 came into the series, the racing at Barber improved. For the past several years, the racing there has been great.

Last year inadvertently served as the season-opener, as St. Petersburg opted to run about a month later than scheduled, just in case COVID was acting up again. In fact, Barber ran a week later than it’s original date. Still, it was not as late as this year. Alex Palou won last year’s race. Surprisingly, it was the first time in eleven tries that Chip Ganassi Racing had won at Barber. Scott Dixon has finished second six times, and third three times. So in eleven years, Dixon has been on the Barber podium nine times, but never on the top step.

Rahal Lanigan Racing won in 2019 for the first time, with Takuma Sato winning his first race at Barber also. Before 2019, Team Penske had won six races at Barber, including the first three. Helio Castroneves won the first race in 2010, and then Will Power won the next two. Ryan Hunter-Reay won two in a row in 2013-14 for Andretti Autosport. Josef Newgarden won for the first time at his “home track” in 2015 for CFH Racing (Carpenter Fisher Hartman), before Penske won the next three with Simon Pagenaud and then two more for Newgarden.

Newgarden has won more than anyone else at Barber, and at one time won three out of four races there, from 2015-18. But that did him no good last year as he made an unforced error and spun between Turns Four and Five on the opening lap – taking out several cars including himself and Ryan Hunter-Reay, and damaging a couple of others. Newgarden never really pulled out of the hole he put himself in on the opening lap of the season.

Newgarden seems to be out to right a lot of wrongs this season. He appears to be a man on a mission, since a so-so first outing at St. Petersburg back in February. Since then, he has scored wins at Texas and Long Beach, then left last week’s open test at Indianapolis having set the fastest speed of the two-day session. Oh, and in the middle of all that – hisb wife gave birth to their first child, a son. Life is good for Josef Newgarden right now.

That’s why I’m picking Newgarden to win again at Barber on Sunday. That will be his third win in a row, and make him a four-time winner at Barber. That’s not really putting my neck out there, but I try to predict who I really think will win – not try to see if I can hit on a long shot. Of course, by picking Newgarden – I’ve guaranteed him to not win. That’s the way my luck usually goes.

The first IndyCar practice does not run until 3:00 CDT this afternoon, and will be shown on Peacock. Since I live in the Central time zone and the race will be run in the Central time zone, all times this weekend will be given in Central time. Saturday’s practice will commence at 9:00 am CDT and can be seen live on Peacock. Qualifying gets underway on Peacock at Noon CDT, with a Saturday afternoon Final Practice at 4:20 – also on Peacock.

Apparently, the Saturday Final Practice takes the place of the Sunday morning warm-up, because there is none of the schedule. There will be a pre-race show on Peacock starting at 11:30 CDT, then the race will be shown live on Big NBC starting at Noon CDT. There will be a post–race show on Peacock beginning shortly after the end of the race.

As usual, we will be posting here throughout the race weekend, about racing items and also about what’s available for fans at the track. You can also get up to date photos, videos and comments if you follow us on Twitter. You may follow me at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back here later today.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Barber Preview”

  1. I am always interested in what is offered at the concession/food trucks at the tracks as a side note beside the basic fare.I hope your blessed with great weather and a safe trip.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    Your pick of Newgarden to win is right on. Of course you know I personally think he is the best around today.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Barber should get in on this “beautiful facility” joke and print some t-shirts. I’d buy one.

    Safe travels and happy racing you two. Have fun!

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