INDYCAR Pre Race Media: 5 Burning Questions For Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)

How Much Did Preseason Testing Help?

For the first time in years, the NTT IndyCar Series has a season opener on a track that they’ve tested at during the offseason. See, the last several years the season opened up at St. Pete. You can’t test on a street course for obvious reasons. Last year, we opened at Texas, a place that no testing really took place prior.

This year, due to St. Pete being pushed back, Barber will serve as the stop to kick off the 2021 INDYCAR campaign. But, the drivers have all spent some time down on the 2.38-mile Alabama race track this offseason testing. How much does that translate over to this weekend?

Will Race Winner Win The Championship?

An odd trend has started in the sense that this will be the third straight year we’ve had the season opener on a different venue. The 2019 season opened on the streets of St. Pete. Last year we started off in Texas. Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon won each respectively. They also turned those wins into a championship at the seasons end. Can Sunday’s winner at Barber follow that trend?

How Will The Rookies Do?

While the eyes are on the series overall, a bulk of the attention is going to go towards this rookie class. This weekend will mark the official debuts of Jimmie Johnson, Romain Grosjean and Scott McLaughlin. While they’ve all tested this offseason, this will be the first time for each that counts. So, how will they do?

This is going to be a steep learning curve for all. McLaughlin is the only one with any past Indy Car experience as he ran in the season finale at St. Pete last October. So, he knows a little of what to expect over the course of a weekend and knows how treacherous the Red tires can be. Grosejan and Johnson haven’t had a chance yet to be on the Red alternate tires, so that will be an awakening this weekend.

The good thing is, all three drivers have taken plenty of laps around this track, so they’ve at least seen it and should fare well in that sense. But, this series is very talented from top to bottom and will make life tough for these drivers.

I would say a top 10 for any of them is the ceiling, but a top 15 is more realistic despite two of the three drivers being with Penske and Ganassi.

Marcus Ericsson was seventh at Barber as a rookie in 2019. Pato O’Ward was 16th. Colton Herta was 24th in that same race. Josef Newgarden was 17th as a rookie here in his debut too. Alexander Rossi was also 15th in year 1. If those drivers all had their struggles, wouldn’t these three?

Can Dixon Get His 1st Barber Victory?

Scott Dixon comes to the Barber Motorsports Park looking to start his season off with another victory. He did so in the season opener in 2020 at Texas which helped prevail him to his sixth career title. Can he do the same for a second year in-a-row?

Barber is a track that he’s never won at though. He’s 0-for-10 there. He’s also never won at St. Pete (0-for-16), Iowa (0-for-15), Portland (0-for-4), Laguna Seca (0-for-3) and COTA (0-for-1). He did get to cross off winless tracks last year on the IMS road course as he was 0-for-6 prior to this year and World Wide Technology Raceway with him being 0-for-4 on the St. Louis area oval prior to last season too. Barber, Portland, Laguna Seca and COTA were all canceled in 2020, so he never got a chance to maybe scratch off more.

Can he start 2021 by doing so though?

It’s not like Dixon hasn’t been close at Barber. In 10 career starts, he has 8 podiums. 6 of those 8 podiums were runner-ups including the last time out in 2019. He has two second place finishes in his last three Barber starts at that.

Is 2021 the year?

Meanwhile, Dixon has also won at 11 venues currently not on the schedule too: Motegi, Houston, Kansas, Edmonton, Homestead, Richmond, Nashville, Kentucky, Watkins Glen, Pikes Peak and Nazareth.

Who Will Win?

I just have a feeling this is Scott Dixon’s year at Barber. Will Power hasn’t had a Barber podium since his win in 2012. Simon Pagenaud doesn’t have a Barber podium since 2017. Josef Newgarden was fourth last time out. Scott McLaughlin is a rookie, so the Penske crop to me, despite having won six times on this track, is one that I feel needs to show me more.

Andretti Autosport is trending up and has had past success on this track, but Dixon has been hot and has been close. No one has won more than him over the last two years on natural road courses. Only Power and Colton Herta have equaled his three trips to victory lane on these tracks.

I’ll take Dixon on Sunday.

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