Two weeks ago, the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series got their season off to a rocky start. This weekend in Alabama, most teams will look to rebound, while others try to keep their momentum going.
Last week at St. Petersburg, Dario Franchitti dominated the race after a first turn, first lap caution wiped out many of the top contenders in the sport. Those drivers are going to be much more patient during the start of this race, but they must also realize that track position is everything at this particular venue. There aren't many passing opportunities at Barber, and they are going to have to be smart when they try to make a move towards the front.
Qualifying is going to be huge, so look for the top guns to remain at the front most of the day. It may take some sound strategy for some of the other teams to pick their way through traffic and get to the front. Either way, this race should provide plenty of excitement, and will really show us who is for real this season.
The race begins on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Dixon had a horrible start to the season after getting tangled up in that opening-lap wreck. He never got a chance to even put the hammer down and see what his Target/Ganassi machine could do. While he is going to be anxious to get this race going, he is a wise enough veteran to realize he must have patience. A good qualifying effort will put him in the best position possible to have a great bounce-back race at Barber. I think that motivation, along with an elite team and car combination, will get him the pole award this weekend.
Whether it is caused by payback, or just simply bad driving, look for Viso to somehow bring out the first yellow flag of the race. Viso had some pretty "unprofessional" racing tactics that he displayed at the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, but I think Simona De Silvestro is going to take the high road, as she has already shown. She would never pay him back, but there are other drivers out on the track who probably aren't too thrilled with Viso's driving style.
Helio needs to rebound from the first race, and what better way to do it than return to the track where you got your first win last year. Helio led 20 laps here last year on his way to victory, and he tested very well in practice earlier this season. Anytime you have a determined Helio Castroneves in a Penske machine, he is going to be a threat to win. I don't know if he can get the win again this year, but a solid top-five finish will certainly be an improvement over the race in St. Pete.
Another driver needing a rebound who should be thrilled to return to Barber is Marco Andretti. Obviously he got the worst of the incident in St. Pete, once again ending upside-down on the first turn of the season for the second consecutive year. Last year, Marco put on a great performance, leading a race-high 58 laps before a tough break caused him to slip back. He went on to finish in fifth place last year—he can build on that this year, and lead Andretti Autosport's collective rebound in race number two.
The driver who dominated St. Petersburg will look to continue to enforce his will against the rest of the field once again. Almost assured a top-five qualifying effort this weekend, he will look to stay up front most of the day and once again challenge for the win. It might not be as easy as the first week with a full field of competition, but nobody should every count him out.
Scott is a guy in desperate need of a solid run after being involved in the wreck in St. Pete, and he also has the power of Ganassi underneath him. His toughest competition might be his teammate, but if he is able to a spot in the top five during qualifying, he will be tough to pass. He might slide back a couple of spots early in the race, but look for him to be challenging for the win in the final few laps. Scott could be looking at a second straight runner-up finish at Barber.
So he didn't win from the pole in St. Pete; big deal. Everyone had gotten used to him dominating every race in every aspect but, the fact is, the competition is as widespread as it has ever been. Don't think he will settle for second place again though. Last year he finished in fourth while he watched his teammate celebrate in the victory lane. That could fuel him even more, which is bad news for the rest of the field.
Everyone had to have felt bad for Conway in St. Petersburg when he was taken out by that first caution. He had been running so well in practice and qualifying, and it looked like he was poised to finish in the top five. That was not the result he envisioned for his first race since coming back from that horrific crash in the Indy 500. Conway could be the best car in Andretti Autosport's stable, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the podium this weekend.