Sunday, April 23, 2017

First Impressions: Barber 2017

1. Josef Newgarden gets his first victory with Team Penske and today was a day of redemption after a disappointing qualifying effort. Newgarden didn't advance to the final round when it appeared he should have and he looked like the best car on the opening stint. He leapfrogged up to the top two just like that from P7 after one stint and he held on. He came out behind Scott Dixon on the final stop but he made an audacious move to take the position back in the final few corners and he was in the catbird seat when Will Power had to pit for a tire puncture. Newgarden held off a hard charging Dixon for the final dozen laps. Any of those three deserved to win today.

2. For the fifth time Scott Dixon has finished second at Barber. He has seven podiums in eight Barber races. He gave it his all to get back by Newgarden. He was up at the front all race. He could have swept the first three races this year but he is still in a great position for the championship.

3. Simon Pagenaud had nothing for Newgarden, Dixon and Power but championships are built on podium finishes that should have only been top fives. He has been in the right position in all three races and he is bound to win two or three races this year.

4. Hélio Castroneves finished fourth and wasn't mentioned once. That is a typical Castroneves day. Never be mentioned and finish in the top six. He has some pace but I am not sure he has enough to get that elusive race victory let alone that elusive title.

5. Alexander Rossi used the alternate tires on his first two stints and it got him up to seventh from 18th. He then got by James Hinchcliffe and benefitted from Power's unscheduled stop and finished fifth in what has to make up a little bit for the Long Beach disappointment.

6. James Hinchcliffe didn't do much all day but finished sixth. He was in the top ten all day. It was a solid day for him on top of an already solid start to the season.

7. Tony Kanaan and Sébastien Bourdais ran nose-to-tail for what seemed like 70 of 90 laps today and they finished seventh and eighth. Neither really showed the pace of the front-runners but they had good days and Bourdais will head to Phoenix with the championship lead.

8. Takuma Sato quietly finished ninth, his first career top ten finish at Barber! I have longed said we know who Sato is and he is never going to turn his pace into the results that match it but through three races with Andretti, this is the best he has looked since he won with Foyt at Long Beach.

9. Mikhail Aleshin used a late move on Ryan Hunter-Reay to finish tenth. Aleshin's day was almost ruined by a kink in the fuel line that only put four gallons of fuel in the car on the first stop but the caution fell his way. Hunter-Reay had to stop early after a damaged front wing after contact with Hinchcliffe on lap one. I have to think Hunter-Reay could have been in the top five had it not been for that contact. It has been a rough two races for Hunter-Reay.

10. Max Chilton wasn't mentioned once all day but finished 12th and that is good for Chilton. It is about time for him to get more respectable results.

13. Graham Rahal finished 13th after starting 21st and this was probably the best he could have hoped for. He just didn't have it this weekend.

14. And now Will Power. I said Dixon could have swept the first three races; Power could at least have two of the first three. Nothing has gone his way this season. It is still early but he is going to need to be on it for 13 of the remaining 14 races. He has at most one more mulligan and it can't come in either of the double-point races.

15. Run down through the rest of the field: Charlie Kimball completed all 90 laps and tried to go off strategy but finished 15th. Ed Jones had wing damage after the debris off of Hunter-Reay's car hit his car and he could only manage 16th. Neither Foyt car looked good with Carlos Muñoz in 17th and Conor Daly in 18th although Daly looked better than his teammate all race. Zach Veach had a good debut and finished ahead of his teammate Spencer Pigot, who spun exiting turn five while in eighth. Veach has a long way to go and Pigot has been really good through three races though two of the results would say otherwise. Marco Andretti had a gearbox issue at the start and he lost three laps immediately and all he could manage was 21st.

16. It looked like it would rain all race and it never came. There were some raindrops on the camera lens but it never escalated to anything that sent teams scrambling.

17. It is still early to talk about the championship but Bourdais leads Dixon by six points, Newgarden by seven points, Pagenaud by 11 points and Hinchcliffe by 15 points. Then Castroneves is 33 points back with Hunter-Reay, Sato, Jones and Rossi all 52-57 points behind Bourdais. Now, IndyCar heads straight to Phoenix and Chevrolet dominated there last year and looked particularly strong at the test in February, although Bourdais and Jones also looked good at the preseason Phoenix test as well. Last year, Phoenix wasn't great and the aero package doesn't appear to be changing. Qualifying could be massively important and it is all just six days away.