Spotlight on Allmendinger, Power at Barber

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Two of Team Penske’s three drivers will have the spotlight well and truly on them this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park (Sunday, 3 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network).

AJ Allmendinger makes his much publicized return to IZOD IndyCar Series competition – his first race under IndyCar sanction and first open-wheel race since the Australian Champ Car race in 2006.

Meanwhile Will Power seeks to break a nearly year-long winless drought with what would be his third straight win at the Birmingham, Ala. facility. Helio Castroneves, the third Penske driver, won the inaugural Barber race in 2010.

Though expectations are high for Allmendinger’s return, simply coming to grips with the car, the track and the incredibly deep field he’ll be racing against, the Los Gatos, Calif. native is keeping his targets in check.

“I guess NASCAR fans don’t know a lot of the names in the field, but that’s because of marketing. Trust me, there are no scrubs in this series, these guys are so quick,” Allmendinger said. “So now I’m here trying to manage expectations. But right now, I would love just to get through the first round of qualifying.”

Power, meanwhile, seems to have a cartoon anvil chasing him around the IndyCar circuit. Things as bizarre as getting taken out under a yellow flag seem to happen only to him. But the Australian’s dry wit has been able to carry him through the longest winless stretch of his Team Penske career.

“I don’t even get angry anymore. It happened and I’m just like, ‘Surprise, surprise, I just got run over, let’s go check the damage,’” Power told the AP’s Jenna Fryer. “Maybe I should start qualifying 16th and going a lap down? Then maybe nobody would think I have the worst luck ever.”

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski