by Curt Cavin
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Here are the highlights from Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park:
SECOND STRAIGHT: IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud made it two race wins in succession – the other was last week in Long Beach, Calif. – to continue his strong start to the season. Team Penske’s driver finished second, second, first and first to open the year. The lead extended to 48 points because Scott Dixon had trouble early in the race and finished 10th. Pagenaud won for the sixth time in his career, and his margin of victory was 13.7 seconds.
EXCITING RAHAL: Graham Rahal, who finished second to Josef Newgarden in last year’s race here, took the lead from Pagenaud with nine laps left, and their battle included contact from Rahal’s left-front wheel and Pagenaud’s right rear, sending Pagenaud into the grass and sand. But Pagenaud kept fighting and attacked back. Rahal tried to lap Jack Hawksworth with Pagenaud on his right, but Hawksworth appeared to surprise Rahal by slowing. Rahal damaged his right front wing early in the race, and contact with Hawksworth damaged the other side. Essentially without a front wing, Rahal was helpless to defend the charging Pagenaud. Rahal limped home in second place, finishing just ahead of Newgarden, who passed Will Power late in the race.
EARLY CAUTION, CONTACT: The start of the race was sloppy, with mid-pack contact involving Mikhail Aleshin and others. Then, on the first full lap of green, Sebastien Bourdais was going too fast approaching Turn 5 on the inside, and he couldn’t make the corner. As the Frenchman drove through the left-side grass, Dixon’s car was mid-corner, and they made contact. Dixon spun, fortunate not to be struck by a trailing car. But it cost him dearly. He was last at that point. Upon review, Bourdais was slapped with an avoidable contact penalty, and he served that penalty after coming to pit road for front wing replacement.
ROARING GOOD STOPS: Marco Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya started 19th and 21st in a 21-car field, but they didn’t stay back there long. Andretti led Montoya through a series of weaving through traffic to pick up nine and 10 positions, respectively, in the opening adventures. Andretti actually had the slowest qualifying lap, but rookie Alexander Rossi (No. 20 starter) and Montoya were the slowest cars in the second qualifying group, so they lined up in the outside lane. Montoya kept charging to finish fifth; Andretti was 12th.
STAR POWER: Barber Motorsports Park continues to have an impressive list of grand marshals, with Charles Barkley, Bo Jackson, Bart Starr and Joe Namath among the celebrities honored. Sunday’s choice was country singer Sara Evans, who delivered a stirring anthem before giving the command to start engines. Evans didn’t just sing and skip; she stayed for nearly all of the race with her husband, former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barber and many of their seven children.
NEXT UP: It’s time for Indianapolis. Many of the teams are based there anyway, but Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be open for practice for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, a road course race, on May 12. The race is two days later, with Indianapolis 500 practice starting May 16. The 100th 500 is May 29.