Josef Newgarden took his first win for Team Penske in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama after a late puncture cost Will Power almost certain victory. The former IndyCar Series champion had dominated the race – leading for 60 laps – but the puncture wrecked his chance to kick start a dismal 2017 Verizon IndyCar season.
2017 IndyCar Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Heroes
Hero – Will Power
Power had this one in his back pocket. After dominating the race to two-thirds distance, a slow puncture robbed him of a very likely win. A win that Power desperately needed after 2 disastrous races at St Petersburg and Long Beach.
Credit to Power for being the true racer that he is. Despite warnings from his team about telemetry indicating a slow puncture, Power opted to stay out for several laps. I always like a win or bust approach but it was a step too far. Power needs a big performance in Phoenix this weekend otherwise his 2017 championship challenge could be over before the month of May.
Hero – Josef Newgarden
Ok he benefitted from Will Power’s dismal luck but Newgarden had Scott Dixon breathing down his neck for the final 20 laps at Barber. Newgarden appeared to have wastefully burned through his push-to-pass allocation staying ahead of Dixon. The Tennessee native in fact had Scott Dixon covered on pace with or without push to pass.
Newgarden was the overtaking king at Barber today, as he had been for his maiden IndyCar win in 2015. A brilliant and ballsy overtake on Pagenaud on lap 17 set the tone for his afternoon. An opportunistic and tough move on Scott Dixon ultimately sealed the win.
We now head to Phoenix, where Newgarden was impressive last year . The young upstart is ready to kick things up a gear to become a championship challenger and Alabama could mark the start of his bid for a maiden Verizon IndyCar title.
Hero – Charlie Kimball
I am about as far removed from Kimball’s biggest fan as you can get. But Charlie got his act together in Alabama, finishing the opening lap with no contact or scrapes. More importantly Kimball managed to keep himself (just about) on the right side of the line between hard and dirty racing.
Heroes – Scott Dixon’s pit crew
The Ganassi boys were in electric form during Dixon’s final stop. Getting the Kiwi out in front of Josef Newgarden put him in contention for the win. Mighty impressive in the chaos of a very busy pit lane and the pressure of a make-or-break pit stop.
Hero – Simon Pagenaud
Pagenaud never quite looked like he was on the ultimate pace set by teammates Power and Josef Newgarden. Before the full course caution for Spencer Pigot’s spin, the series champion was set to come home in a lonely fourth place. But these are the Sunday afternoon’s that win championships. Making the best of a car that is not quite on the pace, Pagenaud’s 4th place finish has put him within 11 points of surprise championship leader Sebastien Bourdais.
Hero – Alexander Rossi
After the Andretti Autosport cars sank without a trace in qualifying, Rossi looked set for a tough day starting 18th. Car improvements plus good strategy from Andretti helped the Indy 500 champion move through the field and end up finishing 5th.
The finish also boosted Rossi up to 10th in the Verizon IndyCar point standings. A handy place to be after 3 races.
2017 IndyCar Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Zeroes
Zeroes – Andretti Autosport
With the exception of Rossi’s battle from 18th to a top 5 finish, Andretti Autosport had a hero to zero kind of weekend.
After dominating in practice with Marco Andretti, the team looked set to put the nightmare of Long Beach behind them. On Sunday things went south fast as Marco Andretti failed to make the start due to gearbox issues. When it comes to Marco, it seems like the old Andretti ‘curse’ that used to live exclusively at the Brickyard is now happy to follow the IndyCar circus around the country.
General performances of all cars excluding Rossi – especially compared to the practice sessions – cannot have given their star guest Fernando Alonso much reassurance about reliability ahead of his Indy 500 debut.
Zeroes – NBCSN race TV director
For the second race in a row the NBCSN TV director was making poor choices all day long. We had extended wide angle pans of Barber’s weird ‘Charlotte’s web’ spider sculpture. Plus there was an obsession with cutting to cars on their pit exit, irrespective of whether they were going to come out challenging for a place or not. At the same time great overtakes were missed live and we switched to random onboard footage at inopportune moments. That’s two strikes NBCSN. Two strikes.
Zeroes – Graham Rahal and RLL
After all but single handedly carrying the hopes of Honda over the past 2 seasons, Rahal and his father’s team seem to be completely lost. They had become very adept at pushing the Honda package beyond its natural capabilities but now – somewhat ironically – hey seem unable to unlock the performance gains made by Honda.
No mater whether you like Graham Rahal or not, it is not good for IndyCar if he keeps sliding towards the back of the grid.
Race rating – 6 out of 10
Early in the race there was some excellent driving and brave moves, plus the excitement of the Newgarden/Dixon duel to the finish. But ultimately this was still a fuel-strategy race. Without his puncture, Power would have cruised to a comfortable win from pole.