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IndyCar Series at Barber Motorsports Park: Five things to watch

Team Penske's Will Power enters Barber weekend sitting 19th in the points standings. (Associated Press photo)
Team Penske's Will Power enters Barber weekend sitting 19th in the points standings. (Associated Press photo)
22-year-old Ohioan Zach Veach will make his IndyCar Series debut this weekend in place of the injured J.R. Hildebrand. (Associated Press file photo)
22-year-old Ohioan Zach Veach will make his IndyCar Series debut this weekend in place of the injured J.R. Hildebrand. (Associated Press file photo)
Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing will look to win his first race of the season at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on Sunday. (Associated Press photo)
Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing will look to win his first race of the season at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

More Information

HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA, Sunday, 3:30 p.m., NBCSN

Track facts

Type: 2.38-mile, 15-turn permanent road course.
First race: 2003
Capacity: 100,000
Lap record: 1:06.600 (Sebastien Bourdais, 2016, IndyCar Series)

Race facts

Laps: 90
Distance: 214.2 miles

IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park

Races: 7
Winningest driver: Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2 apiece)
Winningest team: Team Penske (4)
Most engine manufacturer wins: Chevrolet (4)

Recent race winners at Barber Motorsports Park

2012 - Will Power
2013 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2014 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2015 - Josef Newgarden
2016 - Simon Pagenaud

Points standings (after 2 of 17 races)

1. Sebastien Bourdais, 93
2. James Hinchcliffe, -19
3. Simon Pagenaud, -22
4. Scott Dixon, -23
5. Josef Newgarden, -34

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, April 21, 2017 12:01 am

The IndyCar Series heads into NASCAR country for one of its most heavily-attended road course events of the season this weekend.

Located near the southernmost edge of the Appalachian Mountains, the rolling terrain of Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama has become one of the most scenic stops for open-wheel in America.

Here are five things to watch this weekend in the Yellowhammer State:

1. WILL POWER-LESS

Two races into the season finds Will Power all the way back in 19th in the points standings. Mechanical issues in the opener at St. Pete followed by a first-lap crash at Long Beach has the perennial title contender languishing 63 points behind points leader Sebastien Bourdais.

Considering Power's issues have been largely outside of his control — although Charlie Kimball may disagree after the two got together on track at Long Beach — it stands to reason that the Australian will not be mired in the back for long.

Power has been exceptional at Barber, leading a series-high 148 laps at the track with a pair of victories. The expectation is that the Team Penske driver will be towards the front all weekend long.

In reality, Power can ill afford another sub-par finish with so many talented drivers in front of him in the standings.

2. ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT LOOKS TO REBOUND

It was an event to forget for Andretti Autosport two weeks ago at Long Beach, with all four drives in the team's stable failing to finish due to mechanical issues.

While Marco Andretti (sensor) and Takuma Sato (loss of power) bowed out of the event while not in contention, Alexander Rossi (engine) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (electrical) were both entrenched in the top five late in the race when issues occurred.

While Honda has displayed better pace through the first two events and has shown Chevrolet it is in for a fight in 2017, multiple issues such as what Andretti Autosport experienced have raised questions regarding reliability.

With the first oval on the schedule looming in two weeks at Phoenix followed by the pivotal month of May, the Andretti stable is hoping for more results and less drama this weekend.

3. ZACH VEACH DEBUTS

After suffering a broken hand in an accident on the final lap at Long Beach, J.R. Hildebrand will sit out this weekend's race at Barber. His availability for Phoenix remains uncertain.

In Hildebrand's place with Ed Carpenter Racing will be rookie Zach Veach, who will compete in his first IndyCar Series event.

After racing for three years in Indy Lights, IndyCar's triple-A series, it was announced earlier this month that Veach would make his series debut at the Indianapolis 500 as a third driver for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

The debut timetable was moved up to this weekend with a replacement for Hildebrand needed.
Veach opened some eyes last September when he tested at Sonoma for Ed Carpenter Racing. But with the lack of open seats around the paddock in the offseason, Veach was unable to secure a full-time ride.

The 22-year-old Ohioan will look to impress and continue to secure himself as one of the top IndyCar prospects for the coming years.

4. THE ALONSO FACTOR

Last week's news that two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso would skip the Monaco Grand Prix and compete in the Indianapolis 500 has brought a huge wave of attention to the 101st running of the event.

With F1 off this weekend, Alonso along with McLaren Executive Director Zak Brown will be at Barber Motorsports Park to take in the IndyCar weekend, with a press conference scheduled for Sunday along with appearances on the TV and radio broadcasts.

Expect a lot of questions to be answered this weekend regarding Alonso's preparations for Indianapolis, his practice schedule for the 500 and some queries on the future of both Alonso and McLaren in American open-wheel racing.

5. PARITY RULES...FOR NOW

Entering the weekend, four different teams are represented in the top four positions of the points standings, including the smaller teams of Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports residing in the top two spots.

As Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing each continue to seek their first victory of the season, drivers such as Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe along with others such as Graham Rahal and Mikhail Aleshin aim to show that anyone is a threat to win a race in IndyCar.

Can the Davids of the series continue to knock off the Goliaths?

More Information

HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA, Sunday, 3:30 p.m., NBCSN

Track facts

Type: 2.38-mile, 15-turn permanent road course.
First race: 2003
Capacity: 100,000
Lap record: 1:06.600 (Sebastien Bourdais, 2016, IndyCar Series)

Race facts

Laps: 90
Distance: 214.2 miles

IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park

Races: 7
Winningest driver: Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2 apiece)
Winningest team: Team Penske (4)
Most engine manufacturer wins: Chevrolet (4)

Recent race winners at Barber Motorsports Park

2012 - Will Power
2013 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2014 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
2015 - Josef Newgarden
2016 - Simon Pagenaud

Points standings (after 2 of 17 races)

1. Sebastien Bourdais, 93
2. James Hinchcliffe, -19
3. Simon Pagenaud, -22
4. Scott Dixon, -23
5. Josef Newgarden, -34

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