Barber Preview

As you read this, chances are that Mrs. Oilpressure and I are on our way to Barber Motorsports Park, just east of Birmingham, AL for the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix. This event used to be known as the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. This change represents a five-year agreement with Medical Properties Trust, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit Children’s of Alabama – a foundation dedicated to curing childhood cancer.

The term “beautiful facility” has almost become a punch line over the years, because it is used by everyone to describe the sprawling grounds that encompass the 2.3-mile, 17-turn flowing permanent road course, set amongst the woods and manicured flower beds. But there is a reason people call it that – because it’s true. What Barber lacks in charm and history when compared to Road America, it makes up for it with scenic beauty, seldom seen at a race track. Some have called it the Augusta National of Racing. I’ve never been to the home of The Masters, so I can’t really say how it compares. But with the abundance of azaleas and dogwoods at barber Motorsports Park – that’s probably a fitting description.

Susan and I call Barber our home track, even though we now have the Music City Grand Prix just a few miles from our house. It is only a three-hour drive from Nashville to Barber. Consequently, we have been to every IndyCar held at this track since the inaugural event in 2010. We even attended 2009’s Spring Training, which was held at Barber when it was being evaluated as a possible race venue. We feel right at home here, but we are still amazed at just how scenic it is when we arrive on the grounds for the first time on a race weekend.

Nashville’s Josef Newgarden probably considers this to be his home track also. He has won at the track three times (2015, 2017 and 2018). But since this race returned after being cancelled for COVID in 2020, Newgarden hasn’t fared so well. He finished twenty-third in 2021, when he initiated a multi-car pileup coming out of Turn Four on the opening lap. Last year, he finished fourteenth; so he would really like to re-establish the dominance he enjoyed here in the late 2010s.

Last year, Pato O’Ward silenced a lot of criticism as he dealt with a lot of self-inflicted distractions in the first part of the 2022 season, by winning at Barber. Rinus VeeKay dominated the race, leading 57 of 90 laps; but O’Ward made a bold move – passing VeeKay on the outside in Turn Five on Lap 62. That ended up being the winning pass. VeeKay ultimately fell to third, while Alex Palou finished second – a good follow-up to his first career win at Barber the year before.

Aside from O’Ward’s victory, what most people remember about last year’s race at Barber is the aggressive driving by Romain Grosjean. He tangled with Newgarden and then twice with Graham Rahal, seemingly intentionally. After a year with Coyne where he amassed a lot of good will, Grosjean developed into something of a villain in his first year with Andretti Autosport in 2022. His 2023 season this year got off to a rocky start, with crashes in the first two races – but he drove to a second-place finish at Long Beach a couple of weeks ago.

What is amazing about Barber is how it has evolved into such a good race. After Spring Training in 2009, a lot of naysayers claimed the track was too small and too tight for Indy cars. The first couple of races showed that they may have been correct. But when the current DW12 came online in 2012, it proved to race a lot better on the track with undulating elevation changes. Barber has now become one of the better races on the IndyCar schedule.

If things go to plan, we should be arriving at the track mid-morning. This race last year emphasized how much Susan’s health had declined in 2022, since she had recovered so nicely from cancer surgery and treatments in 2021. This decline led to her being hospitalized for most of last summer. The day we were to leave for Barber last year, she said she wanted me to go without her. In retrospect, that’s what we should’ve done. Friday of last year, she spent most of the morning sleeping in the car. After lunch, I had to take her back to the hotel; where she slept until I got back from the track that evening.

She is much, much better now. I don’t anticipate any of those problems surfacing this weekend. She may be limited in how much walking she can do, but we are really going to try and pace her through the weekend.

There is a full weekend of track activity at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend. The Porsche Sprint Challenge, the Radical Cup cars (which are really fun to watch), USF Juniors, IndyNXT and the NTT IndyCar Series will all be sharing track time this weekend.

The first IndyCar practice will be this afternoon (Friday) at 2:40 pm local time (CDT) on Peacock. Practice Two will begin Saturday morning at 11:00 am CDT on Peacock. Qualifying starts at 2:00 pm CDT Saturday afternoon on Peacock. The morning warm-up will take place at 11:00 am Sunday morning on Peacock, the race broadcast will begin at 2:00 pm on Big NBC, with a scheduled green flag at around 2:30 pm CDT.

From a selfish point of view, I’m not crazy about the later start time. Last year’s race started at Noon, and we were actually back home in Nashville well before it got dark. That will not be the case this Sunday, because the race won’t be over until around 5:00 local time.

The weather forecast is iffy, as it usually is for this race weekend. Spotty showers are predicted for today and tomorrow, but Sunday is supposed to be sunny but cooler. Highs Friday and Saturday are to be in the low to mid-70s. Sundays high will be in the mid-60s. But as usual at this time of year, that can change at the drop of a hat.

Who will win Sunday’s race? The smart money says Josef Newgarden. He has already won this race three times and he has already won once this season at Texas. He and his team let Long Beach get away from them, and I think he really wants to get back on track headed into May. Alex Palou did not race at Barber his rookie year, due to the COVID cancellation. He won in 2021, and finished second in 2022. Scott Dixon has finished second at Barber multiple times, but never won. Is he overdue? Romain Grosjean has run well in all three races this season. I picked him two weeks ago at Long Beach, and he came really close. I think Grosjean will make it two in a row for Andretti Autosport, and he will earn his first career IndyCar victory.

Susan and I will both be posting here multiple times from the track this weekend, including shortly after our arrival. Please check back often. In the meantime, you van follow us both on Twitter for updates, photos and videos. You can follow me at @Oilpressureblog and Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back later.

George Phillips

One Response to “Barber Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    You all have fun! If the Penske cars are not front-runners in qualifying then I think Palou has the best shot at winning. Would like to see a rebound race for the Shank, Carpenter, or Rahal teams.

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