INDYCAR headed back to 'Sweet Home Alabama'

Updated: 

It’s back to “Sweet Home Alabama” for Josef Newgarden.

The 26-year-old hails from Nashville, Tennessee, about three hours up I-65 from Barber Motorsports Park, site of this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First. Newgarden considers Barber his original home track, especially after he took his maiden Verizon IndyCar Series win on the 2.3-mile road course in 2015.

In his last three appearances at Barber, Newgarden has started each time in the top five. Only once in five career starts there has he finished outside the top 10, including the 2015 victory and a third-place finish last year. Needless to say, the Team Penske driver is pleased to be back this weekend.

“I love coming to Barber,” said Newgarden, driving the No 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet this weekend. “It’s a great track, but I treat it like every other race.

“We want to be successful there, just like everywhere we go. For sure, it always holds a special place anytime you get your first victory at a track and Barber has always been one of my favorite permanent road courses. I’ve always liked that place. It’s a great Indy car track to drive with the elevation and the way it flows. It’s very high speed, which is a lot of fun in these types of downforce cars.

“It’s exciting and we’ve been pretty good over there the last couple of years, so we’re going to try and follow it up again with another good result.”

Newgarden may face some of his toughest competition this weekend from his own teammates, as Helio Castroneves (2010), Will Power (2011-12) and Simon Pagenaud (2016) are all past Barber race winners. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (2013-14) is the only non-Penske driver entered this weekend who has also won at Barber.

“It’s fun being a part of this group and having quality teammates to lean on,” Newgarden said.

Newgarden’s teammates also know how to lean on it at Barber. Between them, Power, Castroneves and Pagenaud have won the pole position six times in the seven past events at the track. Power holds to most poles with three and is eager to put a pair of subpar finishes to start the season behind him this weekend.

“We've won there a couple times and have always finished within the top 10,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy. “Qualifying, as usual, is key here and we've got a plan in place to help with that. We've had good speed in the car in tests and races and now we need to turn that into results.”

Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais – who opened the season with a win at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and followed it up with a second-place finish April 9 at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – brings a 19-point lead in the standings into the weekend. James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the Long Beach winner, is second in points. Pagenaud, the defending Barber race winner and Verizon IndyCar Series champion, is poised in third place.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama action begins with two 45-minute practices Friday (11:45 a.m. and 3:25 p.m. ET, each streaming live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). A third practice is scheduled for noon ET Saturday, ahead of Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying at 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN telecast begins at 4:30 p.m.). Live race coverage of the 90-lap race begins at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Fast Facts:

From the fans