Carlos Munoz takes Indy Lights win in Alabama

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After a mechanical problem forced him to settle for seventh in the Firestone Indy Lights season-opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, Carlos Munoz responded today with an emphatic, wire-to-wire victory from pole position in the Legacy Indy Lights 100 at Barber Motorsports Park.

Munoz, who now has three career wins in Indy Lights, quickly pulled away from his pursuers and eventually took the No. 26 Andretti Autosport machine to a five-second win over St. Pete winner Jack Hawksworth of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Hawksworth’s teammate, Gabby Chaves, completed the podium.

Now the Colombian’s focus will shift to passing Thursday’s Rookie Orientation Program for the upcoming Indianapolis 500. Munoz is driving a fifth Andretti car for the “500” — his first race in the IZOD IndyCar Series — and is one of four rookies (A.J. Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly) that are slated to take part in ROP exercises this week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Everyone was asking me, ‘Are you excited about [ROP]?,’ and I said, ‘No, not really — right now, I’m at Barber and I’m thinking about Barber, I’m not thinking about [the] IndyCar’,” Munoz told NBC Sports Network in Victory Lane. “Now, I want to put my head toward the IndyCar for this Thursday, and to do a good job there.”

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