Penske Dominant, Again; Hunter-Reay Hat Trick a Challenge

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Helio Castroneves impresses with his 43rd career pole position and back-to-back Verizon P1 Awards in the IndyCar Series this weekend; he managed to achieve pole last week in Long Beach as well.

This milestone also gives Castoneves his second pole at Barber, gives Team Penske it’s 7th consecutive start from the pole and it also marks the 5th race in a row with an all-Penske front row. Castroneves spoke continually about how these accomplishments were, “just another team effort”. He truly understands what allows for success in racing, and that is the entire team being at the top of their game in combination with driver talent and leadership with experience. Team Penske has all those boxes checked off.

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There was hope that we would break the track record yesterday at Barber Motorsports Park, but damp track conditions during practice and the arrival of more raindrops towards the end of qualifying segments created a less than ideal environment. Will Power was closest to breaking the record, only .0003 seconds away, running the fastest lap in quals with a 1:06:8050.

Scott Dixon’s record from 2013 will stand for at least another year; teams can attempt to challenge it again when the series returns in 2016. Dixon is one to watch in today’s competition, as he will have his eyes on nothing but that top-step of the podium.

Another story of the day was the defending race winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay. The Andretti Autosport driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda had a disappointing qualifying run, not advancing to the Fast 12 round and starting today from P18 in the 9th row. He has landed on top of the podium at Barber the past two seasons and was hoping to make 2015 his third in a row. Between the challenge of finding a competitive stride with Chevy, and lacking speed in the first rounds yesterday, the IndyCar Series champ spoke to his frustration at the end of the day but also his drive to make something happen on raceday.

“We’re all trying really hard to make it better. I love this racetrack and it’s a shame we’re not getting around here quicker right now. But we’ll be working hard at it, that’s for sure.” – Ryan Hunter-Reay, post-qualifying

Hunter-Reay hit on an important point there, in regards to the Honda teams continually pushing to find the right groove with the road & street aero kits. The Honda-powered teams are making progress and surprisingly, it seems that the smaller teams might be locking into something that the bigger teams have not yet. James Hinchcliffe is the only Honda driver to find victory so far in 2015, with a very strategic one-stop win at NOLA Motorsports Park 2 weeks ago. Hinchcliffe’s Arrow Electronics No. 5 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was one of two Hondas that advanced to the Fast 12 yesterday in Birmingham, along with RLL Racing’s Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake car. Hinchcliffe and Rahal have something to say about another all-Chevy podium, and they are making their voices and engines heard.

IMG_20150412_131225_editSpeaking of smaller teams making an impact on the series, the newly formed CFH Racing is showing impressive movement. Ed Carpenter Racing merged with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to create a multi-car team and I think we should be watching for one if not both drivers to aim for the podium today. Luca Filippi in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevy kept his name in the game throughout practices and qualifying on Saturday, running 3rd fastest in Practice 1, 8th fastest in Practice 2, advancing from Group 1 in P4 and ultimately landing a P9 starting position for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, when all was said and done. It’s worth noting this because Filippi hasn’t run competitively at Barber Motorsports Park in the past, he has only done testing over the off-season.

Filippi’s teammate Josef Newgarden runs the No. 67 Hartman Oil Chevy for CFH Racing and his Saturday wasn’t too shabby either. He had the 6th quickest lap in Practice 2, landed P3 in Group 1 of qualifications, advancing first to the Fast 12 and then into the Firestone Fast 6. Newgarden outrun IndyCar Champion and Indy 500 winner, Tony Kanaan of Chip Ganassi Racing, to start on the inside of the 3rd row today, from P5.

Both CFH Racing drivers sounded confident and focused about their ability to produce solid results in the 6th running of the race at Barber Motorsports Park and they are in a great position to make something happen, since passing at this track is not always the easiest thing to do. Starting at the front of the pack at Barber is absolutely an advantage, but remember that this is IndyCar and just about anything is possible… so tune in to NBC Sports at 3 p.m. ET and 2 p.m. CT local time to see exactly how things pan out for all 23 competitors. You can also keep up with the crews and drivers by downloading the IndyCar 15 app on your Verizon Wireless device, logging on to the IndyCar Race Control site, or by making your way over to Barber Motorsports Park if you happen to be in the area!