Barber flashback: A pleasant surprise in 2012

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Barber Motorsports Park’s reputation as a track that was too narrow for IndyCars to produce solid racing on was successfully rehabilitated in last year’s running of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

In previous events on the 2.3-mile road course outside Birmingham, the lone major passing zone had been the Turn 5-6 hairpin known as ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ But in 2012’s action-packed affair, which served as the road course debut for the turbo-charged Dallara DW12, wheel-to-wheel battles ensued all over the track in places that hadn’t been considered ripe for passing opportunities before.

When the dust settled, however, a familiar name was atop the podium. Will Power came from ninth on the grid to claim his second career win at Barber, withstanding a restart challenge from Scott Dixon at Lap 74 and pulling away to a 2.7-second win.

He later said that he thought a victory was not possible after qualifying as far back in the field as he did.

“We went in thinking that we have to kind of be a little off strategy to the other guys to be able to pass around here,” Power said. “So we started on black [primary] tires, everyone else started on [alternate] reds. We went to reds when everyone was on blacks. That got us a couple of spots.

“Then…Good stops and good strategy calls put me out in clean air, so we could use our speed. We slowly passed one by one. It was a very good team effort, absolute team effort. The strategy was perfect. The stops were perfect.”

Power would credit Firestone’s softer tire compounds on both the primary and alternate tires for the amount of passing overall.

“I really thought, as green as the race was, you put it down to the tires really, the fact that the tires had a discrepancy from brand-new to old of up to two seconds, three seconds,” he said. “That allowed for good passing. It really eradicated fuel saving because often we go in, we start lifting, fuel saving. Doing that with the tires eradicated that.

“It was just hard racing. I ran hard the whole day, never saved fuel.”

Dixon came home second, followed by Helio Castroneves in third, Graham Rahal in fourth and Simon Pagenaud in fifth.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.