Bourdais leads IndyCar points heading to Barber. Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar heads south to Barber on NBCSN this weekend

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ annual trip to Birmingham, Ala. at Barber Motorsports Park has quickly emerged as one of the perpetual favorite stops on the calendar, and marks Round 3 of the 2017 season on NBCSN.

NBCSN will air qualifying and race coverage this weekend from Birmingham, highlighting the picturesque road course that has often been called the “Augusta of race tracks.”

Thus far it’s been a surprising start to the 2017 IndyCar season as Sebastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe have made it two winners from the smaller budget Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teams, both driving Hondas, on the street course races at St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

The proverbial powerhouse teams, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, are yet to win in 2017. Meanwhile Andretti Autosport has shown improved form in both qualifying and the races, but have yet to deliver a result to validate those improvements. They have provided a lot of the headlines in recent weeks, thanks to the confirmation of two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in a jointly entered McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport car for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Interestingly, this is the first time since the IndyCar and Champ Car series merged in 2008 that none of these three teams, Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, have won the first two races.

All five past winners of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama are in Sunday’s field. Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud won here last year after a titanic scrap with Graham Rahal; Josef Newgarden won his first career race here two years ago, also defeating Rahal.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won here back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, with Will Power winning back-to-back in 2011 and 2012. Helio Castroneves won here for the first race in 2010.

Rahal has two second-place finishes here in as many years and seeks a breakthrough victory. Scott Dixon has an incomparable record of six podium finishes from 2010 through 2015, four runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes, but has not won here.

Bourdais and Coyne lead the points, but his best finish at this track is only eighth place.

Add in Alonso making a guest appearance for his first time in an IndyCar paddock and rookie Zach Veach making his series debut as an injury replacement for JR Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing and there will be no shortage of story lines.

Leigh Diffey will anchor alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy; Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller are in the pits.

Here’s the schedule with where to watch on TV on digital platforms. Live streaming can be found here for both qualifying and the race.

Beyond NBCSN, fans can catch all the action via NBC Sports online at NBCSports.com/Live, or through the NBC Sports app which is available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.

The next race is the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, on April 29.

IndyCar’s season finale at St. Pete approved to have 20,000 fans

IndyCar St. Pete fans
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The NTT IndyCar Series’ season finale will be permitted up to 20,000 fans, making the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg possibly the circuit’s most well-attended race of 2020. The race originally was scheduled as the season opener before being moved to Oct. 25 because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

IndyCar has enjoyed limited crowds at Road America, Iowa Speedway, Gateway, Mid-Ohio and this weekend’s doubleheader races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which could have up to 10,000 fans in attendance. That had been the largest maximum grandstand crowd for an IndyCar race this season.

At a St. Petersburg city council meeting Thursday, Mayor Rick Kriseman approved plans by race organizers Green Savoree Racing Promotions to hold the Oct. 23-25 weekend for the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Pete with 20,000 fans who would follow health and safety protocols that include mandatory temperature checks and masks.

 “My thanks to Green Savoree Racing Promotions and IndyCar for their flexibility and resilience during this challenging time,” Kriseman said in a release. “I know that everyone is excited to get back on the track in St. Pete. I can’t wait for Oct. 23rd. I know everyone will embrace this race the St. Pete way, adhering to the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Let’s have some great racing in the Sunshine City.”

Paddock and the pit lane will remain closed to spectators, and social distancing of at least 6 feet will be observed on site.

“Our entire team greatly appreciates the patience and understanding of our ticket holders as we worked through this process with Mayor Kriseman, City Council and local health officials,” Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of Green Savoree Promotions. “It’s important for everyone who attends to read and follow all the COVID-19 protocols to contribute to a fun, safe and successful event for us all.”

“The ongoing guidance and support of Mayor Kriseman, City Council, and the City of St. Petersburg’s event team have been phenomenal,” said Kevin Savoree, co-owner, president and COO of Green Savoree Promotions. “We also would not be in this position to move this spring tradition to fall without Firestone’s unwavering commitment and dedication. It’s going to be a terrific weekend again in downtown St. Pete in three weeks featuring world-class racing from INDYCAR.”