Ten with Townsend: Barber debrief

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Ryan Hunter-Reay’s dominance, Will Power’s relative struggles and Charlie Kimball’s emergence highlight the post-Barber edition of “Ten with Townsend,” as NBC Sports Network analyst Townsend Bell recaps the weekend from Birmingham, Ala.

The first edition, post-St. Pete, is linked here. And if you missed his GoPro course preview lap with Wally Dallenbach, that’s linked here.

-Biggest surprise of the weekend?

Watching Dario qualify in the back.  It’s so tight these days that even a slight hiccup and you’re way down the grid.

-Biggest disappointment? 

Seeing Hinch stranded there unable to make it to pits for a simple fix.  He handles it better than anyone I know.

-Your most improved team and driver from St. Pete?

Ganassi- Dixon.  They were the class of the field.

-What did you make of the gap between Firestone’s black and red tires this week, now on a road course?

Strange how the Reds were faster AND consistent.  Don’t think anyone expected that after St. Pete.

-Do you think this was Ryan Hunter-Reay’s most complete weekend in IndyCar, since he scored pole, led most laps, win with a pass of Helio and having to hold off Dixon?

Perhaps, but I think it just shows how resilient he is.  It’s the same as last year, hardship one weekend and major bounce back the next.  He’s on top form.  He fought and survived some very lean years on the bubble of the sport and has been hardened against adversity.  In many ways this is a walk in the park from what he’s been through.

-Charlie Kimball’s weekend: How much is it his own improvement and how much is it an increased or improved relationship between his garage and Target side?

I think it’s just his steady and methodical approach towards self improvement.  His pass on Power showed there’s a tiger in their ready to get loose.  That was low percentage, but high testosterone.

-How surprising was it to see Will Power not pace any session?

We never really got to see Will drop the hammer like he could of in the race because of his fuel saving strategy which obviously did not work in his favor.  I expect he’ll come roaring back at Long Beach.  Street circuits are where his freakish fast hands, feet, and brain really shine. #quadcoreprocessor

-Thoughts and reflections on AJ Allmendinger’s weekend? About what you expected or better?

He exceeded expectations in qualifying and probably met expectations in the race.  Stalling in the pits was a killer to the final result.  I’m still not sure who or what was at fault there.

-Overall, what do you make of the competition level in that mere tenths cover 1-24 and losing a fraction costs you so many positions?

That is what makes the races so much fun to call.  There are so many capable winners but in the end, as usual, the top team are there based on their ability to minimize mistakes and execute.

-And lastly, any off-the-wall observations you witnessed around the paddock this weekend.

-Meeting Bo Jackson was cool.  The fact that he was that size and perhaps the fastest man ever in the NFL is mind blowing.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “