Newgarden pulls off first Penske win at Barber after Power’s demise

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Josef Newgarden secured his first win for Team Penske in just his third start for his new team at Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, Round 3 of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The driver of the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet inherited the lead on Lap 77 after teammate Will Power, who had otherwise dominated the race, was forced to pit with a left rear puncture, which was confirmed by both Firestone and Team Penske.

Newgarden had moved into prime position with a pass of Scott Dixon after a restart on Lap 67, which put the No. 2 driver into third place but a net second behind Power.

Charlie Kimball had led off sequence on a different strategy but pitted on Lap 75, which moved Power to the point. Team Penske then radioed in that he was facing a tire issue and despite Power’s calls to stay out and fight it, the Australian eventually answered the call.

Newgarden promptly proceeded to hold off Dixon for the win by 1.0495 seconds, with Simon Pagenaud on the podium in third ahead of Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi. Newgarden led the final 14 laps en route to the victory.

Dixon’s unreal run of luck at this track continued. The driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing scored his fifth runner-up and seventh overall podium finish at Barber, none of which are a win.

Pagenaud started and finished third in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet but lamented a need to fuel save late in the race, which meant he wasn’t able to properly battle the top two in front of him.

Castroneves had a relatively nondescript run to fourth from second on the grid in the No. 3 AAA Team Penske Chevrolet while Rossi managed a mix of on-track passes and strategy moves to climb from 18th to fifth in the No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda. Rossi got into the top-10 by Lap 21 and progressively moved forward from there.

Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe was sixth, St. Petersburg winner and points leader Sebastien Bourdais eighth on the day, the latter after losing a late battle with Tony Kanaan in a fight over seventh.

Takuma Sato and Mikhail Aleshin completed the top 10, the latter having emerged from a battle with Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final lap as well.

Bourdais still leads the points, although that’s tightened considerably with the top five now covered by just 15 points.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Beyond the podium, Rossi (fifth), Kanaan (seventh) and Aleshin (10th) scored their first top-10 finishes of 2017… Hunter-Reay rebounded from a first lap wing change after contact to end 11th… Graham Rahal recovered from 21st to 13th… Zach Veach finished his IndyCar debut on the lead lap in 19th, and ran as high as fourth place, off-sequence.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Marco Andretti’s nightmare weekend despite pace got worse when electrical gremlins resigned him to missing the start in the pits. Despite getting back out, he finished 21st and last, several laps down… Spencer Pigot ran in the top-10 most of the race before a spin on Lap 63 brought out the day’s second full-course caution. He ended 20th… Ed Jones’ run of top-10s ended with a front wing change needed after getting hit from debris on the opening lap and the rookie dropped to 16th.

NOTABLE: Newgarden wins in his third race for Team Penske, mimicking the same feat accomplished by Al Unser Jr. in 1994. Unser Jr. promptly won that year’s Indianapolis 500 and championship… This is also Newgarden’s third straight Barber podium after winning in 2015 and coming third last year, and surprisingly, the first time in his six-year IndyCar career he’s scored consecutive podium finishes after finishing third at Long Beach… Newgarden, Dixon, Pagenaud, Castroneves, Hinchcliffe and Bourdais are the only drivers with top-10s in all three races, with Pagenaud and Dixon the only drivers with top-fives in all three.

QUOTABLE: In victory lane, Newgarden was obviously pleased to win but did feel for Power after his demise, when speaking to NBCSN’s Kevin Lee.

“Well, first off, it’s tough to see that because nobody ever wants to deal with that. It kind of goes and comes in racing. You get the breaks and sometimes you don’t. I think it was shaping up to be a really great battle for me, (Scott) Dixon, and Will; and it ended just being between Dixon and me. I feel bad for Will. I wish he could have been in that with us. But, sometimes that’s the way it rolls. Today in worked right for us in the No. 2 car and we’ll try to keep this momentum and keep going strong in the future.”

RESULTS

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Results Sunday of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series event at the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (7) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 90, Running
2. (4) Scott Dixon, Honda, 90, Running
3. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 90, Running
4. (2) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 90, Running
5. (18) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 90, Running
6. (6) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 90, Running
7. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 90, Running
8. (12) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 90, Running
9. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 90, Running
10. (8) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 90, Running
11. (5) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 90, Running
12. (9) Max Chilton, Honda, 90, Running
13. (21) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running
14. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running
15. (15) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 90, Running
16. (11) Ed Jones, Honda, 90, Running
17. (16) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 90, Running
18. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 90, Running
19. (19) Zach Veach, Chevrolet, 90, Running
20. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 89, Running
21. (13) Marco Andretti, Honda, 87, Running

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 108.809 mph
Time of Race: 1:54:08.7076
Margin of victory: 1.0495 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 7 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Power 1-20
Castroneves 21-22
Dixon 23-24
Power 25-43
Dixon 44
Power 45-63
Kimball 64-74
Power 75-76
Newgarden 77-90

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Bourdais 117, Dixon 111, Newgarden 110, Pagenaud 106, Hinchcliffe 102, Castroneves 84, Hunter-Reay 65, Sato 65, Jones 62, Rossi 60.

Reports: Fernando Alonso to test on September 5 at Barber Motorsports Park

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According to a number of media stories Thursday afternoon and evening, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will reportedly test an Indy car at Barber Motorsports Park on Wednesday, September 5.

The 2.38-mile permanent road course just outside Birmingham, Alabama, per those stories, will play host to Alonso as he reportedly tests with IndyCar’s Andretti Autosport team and Honda.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) President Art St. Cyr issued a statement late Thursday afternoon about Alonso’s reported upcoming test:

“Fernando Alonso is one of the premier racing drivers of this generation, and we very much enjoyed working with him at the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

“He has shown that he can be very competitive right off the bat, and it would be great for IndyCar if he were to decide to drive here full-time after his F1 career. Having Alonso as a driver would be an obvious benefit for any team or manufacturer.”

However, St. Cyr’s statement also included a reference to Honda potentially not being able to field a new engine for Alonso in the IndyCar series in 2019.

“Our engine lease agreements are made between HPD and specific teams,” St. Cyr’s statement said. “Several of our current IndyCar Series teams already have agreements in place with HPD for the 2019 season, and we have been operating near maximum capacity all year long to properly provide powerful, reliable engines for all of our teams.

“We have had discussions with several current and potential teams for 2019, and those discussions are ongoing.”

Rumors of Alonso potentially racing for a hybrid operation that would include Andretti Autosport, McLaren and Harding Racing have been picking up speed. But there’s one potential major hurdle: Harding’s Dallara’s are powered by Chevrolet engines.

Alonso announced earlier this week that he’d be retiring from Formula One at season’s end, saying he’s looking forward to new adventures.

Because of his loyalty to McLaren, it’s increasingly looking as if Alonso comes to IndyCar, McLaren will have some involvement – although perhaps not as much as it potentially could do if it went all-in with a full-time effort immediately in 2019.

There is no word whether Chevrolet or Harding Racing could potentially be on hand at the Sept. 5 test at BMP, even in just an observation role.

Since being part of the winning team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Alonso’s desire to become only the second driver to win motorsport’s triple crown – the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 – has increased exponentially.

He’s already won the first two; just a Indy 500 triumph remains on his bucket list.

The late Graham Hill is the only driver to have accomplished the triple crown feat to date.

Alonso, who turned 37 on July 29, has made just one prior IndyCar start, in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps of the 200-lap event and appeared to have a car strong enough to win before it suffered engine failure with 21 laps remaining.

Instead of what likely could have been a top-five finish, if not a win, Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar racing ended disappointingly with a 24th-place finish.

In addition to being courted by IndyCar, NASCAR has also jumped into the Alonso sweepstakes, saying he’d be welcome to race in the 2019 Daytona 500.

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