Milwaukee’s been the “Big three” domain since 2004

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We’ll get the historical disclaimer out of the way first: INDYCAR (then IRL) first raced at The Milwaukee Mile in 2004, but the track’s history itself is substantially longer. After all, it is the oldest continually operating speedway in North America, after opening in 1903.

Drivers in this year’s Milwaukee IndyFest have history at the track dating back to 1996 – Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves made their first starts at the legendary one-mile oval in the Indy Lights race there that year. Dario Franchitti made his Milwaukee debut in the CART race there in 1997.

But in IRL, then INDYCAR-sanctioned races, only teams from the IZOD IndyCar Series’ generally accepted “Big three” teams – Andretti Autosport, Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing – have won races at the Mile.

Champ Car did run concurrently at the track from 2004 to 2006, with wins taken by Ryan Hunter-Reay (his second of his career, first on an oval), Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais in those three seasons. Bourdais’ win for Newman/Haas is the last at Milwaukee outside the Andretti, Penske, and Ganassi stables.

Franchitti took the first IRL-sanctioned win in 2004, a career-rejuvenating first win since a back injury suffered in 2003 cost him the second half of that season. Sam Hornish Jr. won in 2005 for Penske, with Tony Kanaan scoring each of the next two wins for Andretti in 2006 and 2007.

Ryan Briscoe scored his first ever, and Penske’s 300th as an organization, win in 2008. Target Chip Ganassi Racing dominated the next two Milwaukee races (Scott Dixon in 2009, Franchitti in 2011), although 2010 the track was temporarily closed as it went through financial straits.

Things came right for Hunter-Reay last year, scoring his second Milwaukee win in the first race promoted by Andretti Sports Marketing.

This year is a pivotal one for the race as it marks the first time in five years that the same promoter has done the event in consecutive years; a second successive win for “RHR” or one by one of his three Andretti Autosport teammates would look good.

ASM is also batting a perfect two-for-two in races it has promoted, as Hunter-Reay won not only Milwaukee but also Baltimore last year.

You’ll notice Castroneves’ name has been decidedly absent from this piece to this point. Milwaukee’s been something of a bogey track for him, and he has yet to better a runner-up finish set in his rookie season of CART, in 1998!

Castroneves – and the rest of the field outside the “Big three” – will be looking to topple the empire that has thus far reined over Milwaukee in the last decade.

UPDATE 2: INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama once again under red-flag race stoppage

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UPDATE No. 2: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was closing in on restarting on Lap 23 or 24 before officials threw the second red flag race stoppage because of lingering puddles on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, particularly on the front stretch. We’ll keep you updated as situations warrant.

UPDATE No. 1: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is under a red-flag race stoppage after 19 laps due to rain and puddling on the racing surface at Barber Motorsports Park.

Cleaners and dryers are on the track to try and get some of the water off the racing surface. The low spots on the track, as well as the front stretch, have been particularly troublesome and led to several spinouts and at least two wrecks (Charlie Kimball and outside front pole sitter Will Power).

Power’s day is done after suffering irreparable damage to the left side of his car after hydroplaning on the front straight and running into the inside retaining wall.

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS:

Although rain has been falling for nearly an hour and the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile permanent road course is drenched, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is underway on NBCSN.

The start of the race was moved up from 3:38 p.m. ET to take the green flag at 3:08 p.m. ET.

Josef Newgarden is the defending winner of this race and also will start from the pole for today’s race.

While the race is scheduled for 90 laps, there’s a possibility that if the weather worsens or if lightning appears, it could potentially be shortened to just two hours.

As can be expected, all cars are on rain tires to maximize grip.

Catch the race live on NBCSN.