Is Josef Newgarden both good and lucky? Is Marco Andretti cursed? Here are our takeaways from IndyCar’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
The 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was a low-key affair for the Verizon IndyCar Series until the final 20 laps—then we learned a lot of things from the racing at Barber Motorsports Park.
Josef Newgarden made another statement on the Alabama road course by earning his first victory for Team Penske. But there were other drivers who had little reason to celebrate, including Marco Andretti, who was three laps down before he ever finished one.
While a handful of drivers rose up on Sunday, just as many were knocked down, and a few lessons were given out with Round 4 of the IndyCar season just six days away.
Here’s what we learned from the 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama:
1) It’s the tires
Not to take anything away from Josef Newgarden’s performance, but if not for a flat tire, we would be talking about the dominant day had by Will Power. Power earned the pole position at Barber yet again this weekend, and led some 60 of the 90 laps.
And although Newgarden was charging, Power was doing a fine job keeping the other Penske driver behind him—until a flat tire ruined his race and sent him into the middle of the pack. Power had this one in the bag, and he needed it for his championship hopes, too.
But all it takes is one bad break; just ask Graham Rahal, who might have won last year’s race if not for wing damage. Instead, Simon Pagenaud earned the victory at Barber on his way to the 2016 IndyCar championship. So could this be the race that sets Power back (yet again) and catapults Newgarden forward? We’ll see.
2) What’s going on with Andretti Autosport?
If you’re an IndyCar fan, you really have to feel for Andretti Autosport. It looked like the team had gotten themselves back together after struggling so much last season, but the last two weeks have just beaten the stuffing out of Michael Andretti’s roster.
Ryan Hunter-Reay could’ve won at Long Beach and was in the Fast Six at Barber, but early contact with James Hinchcliffe caused front damage to his No. 28 DHL Honda and an early stop took RHR out of the running; he’d finish 11th. Meanwhile, Marco Andretti suffered through another technical problem for the second week in a row, this one before his race even started.
The good news for Andretti is that Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato both finished in the Top 10, with Rossi rounding out the Top 5 (plus he’s still within the Top 10 in IndyCar driver points). So not all is lost, but there’s definitely a problem keeping Andretti Autosport from getting to that next level, particularly with Marco’s car.
Whatever’s happening with Andretti, they’d better get to the bottom of it fast, because they’re scheduled to run a jaw-dropping six cars in this year’s Indianapolis 500.
3) Josef Newgarden needs no adjustment
Remember how Simon Pagenaud came over to Team Penske two years ago and needed a season to find himself before he won the 2016 championship? Josef Newgarden clearly doesn’t need any sort of adjustment period. His win in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was his second in the last three years, and he’s now just seven points away from being the IndyCar championship leader.
Expectations were astronomically high for the 25-year-old going into this season, since he was already a championship contender before being signed by the top team in IndyCar. But he proved on Sunday that he’s still dialed in and, even though he was helped by Power’s bad luck, got his first win driving for Penske (not to mention the team’s first win, and the first win for Chevrolet).
It’s still very early in the season, but Newgarden is definitely comfortable at Team Penske. You can also read our interview with him about his new team here.
Next up for the Verizon IndyCar Series is a trip back West, for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. The green flag drops on Saturday, April 29; until then, keep up with the latest IndyCar news in the Motor Sports category at FanSided here.