Power and Wickens are ones to watch in Saturday Qualifying at Barber

Alright. I’m pretty sure Turn 5 at Barber Motorsports Park has its own gravitational pull. That pull is strongest when Indy cars are in orbit nearby.  The No. 10 Ganassi Honda of Ed Jones ended up triggering the first red flag of practice, when he needed assistance from AMR Rescue to be pulled from the grips of the tumultuous Turn. Jones is fresh off the podium from Long Beach and there is a good chance he was pushing his car to the limit to find those boundaries before quals today.

The 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the year has had mixed results at permanent road courses, so I’m not surprised that he’s trying to push the car in an effort to improve his results. In 2017 he finished P16 at Barber, P19 at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, had a road course best with P7 at Road America, then P21 at Mid-Ohio, P13 at Watkins Glen, and closed the season with a P19 at Sonoma.

The second red flag on Saturday practice for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of  Alabama was actually due to an incident in Turn 2, when Jordan King made contact with the outside wall, causing significant damage to the left front wheel and suspension. He exited the car under his own power and the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy was lifted back to the paddock. The Ed Carpenter Racing team will have a good chunk of work to complete to get the car in qualifying condition for this afternoon.

To close the session, Charlie Kimball  (No. 23 Tresiba Honda, Carlin) came to a stop by Turn 5 to end the session. We didn’t get a replay and had conflicting reports of exactly where he ended up, but it was in the immediate vicinity of Turn 5.

I told you, it’s a tricky little component of this track – particularly with these new universal aero kits. Seeing the field go through this area of the track tomorrow is going to be wild. I’ll be floored if we don’t see someone go off there in Lap 1 tomorrow. With the added complication of wet weather, well, let’s just say things could get messy.

Will Power led the pack for the second time this weekend. He also clocked the fastest lap of the past two days, with a 1:07.343 lap in the latter part of the morning practice. Power has earned pole in half the races that IndyCar has contested at Barber, so he is absolutely a contender for that Verizon P1 Award this afternoon.

Let’s be honest, that’s no different than any other weekend or any other track when it comes to Power. He’s one of the strongest qualifiers in IndyCar history, with only Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt ahead of him. He shares the third place spot with former teammate Helio Castroneves. That top slot on the grid has eluded him thus far in 2018, but not by much! He started from outside Row 1 in St. Pete and Long Beach, and from P3 at Phoenix.

Speaking of drivers who qualify well, rookie Robert Wickens started off the season, and his IndyCar career for that matter, with a pole position at St. Pete and he was right on Power’s tail this morning with the second quickest lap of practice, and third quickest of the weekend. Keep an eye on him, I’d be very surprised if he didn’t make the cut for the Firestone Fast 6.

Tune in live for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama qualifications on CNBC at 3:00 p.m. CT / 4:00 p.m. ET today. There will be an encore broadcast at 5:30 p.m. CT / 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, as well.

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Photo credit: Chris Jones / IndyCar