LEEDS, Ala — The million dollar question leading into Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) is, who’s going to win the opening race of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season. Before we get to that, let’s get to the details for the race itself.
Race Day Schedule (All Times Local)
10:30-11 am: Warmup Peacock
2:05 pm: Cars To Grid
2:23 pm: Invocation
2:24 pm: National Anthem
2:26 pm: Drivers To Cars
2:35 pm: Command
2:42 pm: Green Flag
Coverage: 3 p.m. ET
Radio: INDYCAR Radio Network
Phone: INDYCAR App
Race Distance: 90 Laps/207 Miles
Race: 1 of 17
Track: Barber Motorsports Park
Who Will Win?
Well, the trends say anyone coming from the top 5 Rows on Sunday will end up celebrating in victory lane. All 10 INDYCAR races at Barber have seen the eventual race winner come from a top 9 starting spot. Plus, 12 of the 14 races last year saw the winner come from a top 10 starting position.
“Last year I found out not the hard way, I found out many times, many different situations, many different circuits, that when you start seventh or eighth or further back, it is tougher,” said O’Ward. “It’s tougher, just like in a superspeedway as well. If you’re behind 10 cars or two cars, it makes a big difference. Those wings like clean air.
“I think starting at the front is definitely going to be better than starting mid pack or in the back. With the new pavement, it’s going to be interesting to see what the deg is going to be like, what the pace difference is going to be with blacks and reds. If the pace from one to another isn’t that big, then the overtakes are going to be even more difficult than what they have been in the past.
“I think it will play into the hands of a good strategy tomorrow for sure. But you’re going to have to have pace in order to stay up front. But I think we can do so.”
“The lap times are a lot faster. What that usually does is means there’s less tire deg, the braking zones are shorter. It’s just harder to overtake people,” he said.
“It’s always been a qualifying kind of heavy track. I think it’s even more so this year. Yeah, I mean, it’s good we were able to get it done. Obviously the general pace of the car is there. We’ll just have to get a good start, keep our nose clean, see how it unfolds.
“It’s going to be a long race, going to be a little bit warmer tomorrow. That may play a factor in car balance and how the tires are working. Same for everyone. We’ll just do the best we can to finish where we started.”
In respect to that, we can eliminate anyone coming from 11th on back. So, lets advance Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi, Alex Palou, Will Power, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean, Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta and Conor Daly.
A reason for this trend is that three of the last five INDYCAR races overall went from green flag to checkered flag without a caution. In fact, there were 2 or fewer in 6 of the last 7 races of 2020 including 9 of the last 11 overall. In terms of Barber, we’ve had 2 or fewer cautions in five straight years and 8 of the 10. That in turn negates most of the pit strategy of possibly flipping the field due to an ill timed caution or at the very least lessens the prospects of one occurring.
Now, lets narrow it down even more.
8 of the 10 years at Barber, the race winner came from a top 5 starting spot. So, we can essentially eliminated starters 6th-10th then.
That leaves O’Ward, Rossi, Palou, Power and Dixon.
The top three starters won 9 of the 14 races run last year including 8 of the final 9. The pole winner at Barber won 3 of the last 4 years too.
So, we can pretty much leave off Power and Dixon then, especially since Power hasn’t had a podium since his 2012 win and Dixon is 0-for-10 during his career at Barber. He does have six runner-ups though, so I’d expect Dixon on the podium, just not a win. Power does have seven top fives at Barber but none over his last three starts. I’ll give him a top five nod though on Sunday, just not a podium, nor a win.
So, we’ve got it narrowed down then to O’Ward, Rossi and Palou. 2 of the 3 have never won an INDYCAR race before but all three have been the quickest in everything we’ve had so far this weekend.
Palou and Rossi were fastest in the 2 practice sessions with O’Ward being fifth and seventh respectively himself.
5 of the final 6 races last year were won from the front row to go along with half of the races run at Barber being won from the pole.
O’Ward finished second in his only other front row starting spot of his INDYCAR career. Rossi is the only one among the three to have won a race and among his seven career wins, five of which have come from a front row starting spot.
So, the winner is….Got to go with Rossi now even though I chose Dixon at the start of the week. Trends give Rossi the nod.
The top 5 finishers according to the trends:
- 27 Rossi
- 5 O’Ward
- 9 Dixon
- 2 Newgarden
- 12 Power