- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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LEEDS, Ala. -- A few common notions were dispelled Sunday in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
Will Power won the race from ninth on the grid, proving that you can actually pass cars at the tricky and narrow Barber road course.
Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Honda led the most laps and demonstrated that Team Penske and Chevrolet aren't necessarily going to dominate the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012.
And Dragon Racing's Sebastien Bourdais showed that the maligned Lotus engine really isn't that much of a dog after a combative drive to ninth place.
in all, the IndyCar Series put on an excellent race Sunday. Any race fan who couldn't find something to get excited about at Barber's park-like setting on a glorious, sunny spring day apparently didn't know what to watch for.
The two previous Indy car races at Barber were criticized as processional affairs, but the new DW12 chassis and turbocharged V-6 engines made a positive difference because there was passing aplenty throughout the field all day long.
Perhaps no one was more surprised by that than Power, who a week ago at St. Petersburg was despondent after finishing seventh in a race he started from pole position. After that event, Power said it was "impossible to pass in these things," referring to the new chassis and engine combo.
Power could have sunk into a deeper state of despair after a bad break in qualifying relegated him to ninth on the grid at Barber. The Australian was on the fastest timed lap of the Barber weekend during second-round qualifying, but his lap was disallowed because he passed through a local caution zone at full speed when he was required to slow down. A red flag stopped the session and Power did not get another chance to improve his time.
Instead of sulking about what happened Saturday, Power drove one of the most mature races of his career. His Penske crew got him up to sixth place after the first round of pit stops, and a call by strategist Tim Cindric to have Power make his second stop relatively early gained him even more track position.
"We just had to be smart, and that's exactly what we did through the whole race, both the way we ran and with the strategy and the tires," Power said. "I've got to thank all my guys -- the pit stops were all unbelievable to get me out in front of people. When you've got Tim Cindric on your radio -- his strategy was awesome and the team did a great job with the car. It made my job easy."
Dixon had pulled out to a 5-second lead at the halfway point of the 90-lap race, but Power moved up to second place. When Dixon made his second stop on Lap 48 (seven after his Team Penske rival), Power was within striking distance.
And when Dixon got blocked going into and out of the pits and his Target crew turned in a slow final stop on the 75th lap (a crewman had problems with the right rear wheel nut), Power took the lead during the pit stop exchange.
Once out front, the No. 12 Verizon car was untouchable.
"Team Target did a great job all day, but I'm kind of angry at the moment," fumed Dixon. "We didn't make a good job of that. We got caught up there in some traffic and obviously got beat there on the pit sequence."
It was the second consecutive runner-up finish to start the 2012 campaign for Dixon, who has been by far the most competitive Honda driver in the first two races of the season. His teammate, four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, finished 10th Sunday. Graham Rahal was the second best Ganassi driver on the day with a fourth-place finish.
Good points, obviously, but today I think it was our race to lose and we did a good job of losing it. We're starting to get on top of this car and hopefully in the next few races we might be looking at the top spot on the podium.
”-- Scott Dixon
"Good points, obviously, but today I think it was our race to lose and we did a good job of losing it," Dixon said. "We're starting to get on top of this car and hopefully in the next few races we might be looking at the top spot on the podium. Huge congratulations to Will and Team Penske. To win here from so deep in the field surely made a good show on TV."
Pole winner Helio Castroneves completed a 1-3 finish for Team Penske after struggling to keep grip in his tires. But the story was Power, who ended up claiming his 16th Indy car victory in a race he didn't think he could win.
"Honestly, this morning I didn't think it was possible," Power said. "But as a group, I think we're a real strong package. It was definitely a difficult race for us, and a true team effort.
"The last restart was kind of hairy and I knew Scott was really going to be quick," he added. "He hounded me for a couple of laps there, but Tim put me in position where I could use my speed. This is the result."
Cindric, who has led Team Penske's Indy car operation since 2000 and now calls the shots for all of Roger Penske's racing teams, paid tribute to his driver and his crew.
"The Verizon guys are the best in the business and I can't say enough about what they open up in terms of what you can do with strategy -- especially when you've got Will out there on the race track," Cindric said. "It's hard to beat him on these road courses. He puts the laps down when you need him to -- he's pretty much like a robot. I just tell him what to do and he does it. He's awesome.
"We kept the boss [Penske] happy, that's the important thing."
Cindric said that even when Power didn't qualify where he was expecting to (aka pole position), he and the team never gave up hope.
"As long as it stayed green, we had a good shot at it," Cindric said. "A bunch of yellows at the wrong time would have hurt us. I knew we had the fastest car; it was just a matter of getting him out front."
With a win and a third-place finish in the first two races of the season, Castroneves holds the IndyCar championship lead with 86 points, two ahead of Dixon and seven ahead of Power. Franchitti, who has endured an unhappy start to his campaign, ranks 11th in the standings with 37 points.
"The bottom line is we weren't quick enough," Franchitti said. "Scott did a great job to finish second, but we've got a lot of work to do."
Barber Motorsports Park announced a three-day attendance of 81,378.
"We saw a resurgence this year," said Gene Hallman, president of event promoter Zoom Motorsports. "Attendance was up and it exceeded our expectations. It's always tough in the third year; complacency sets in as the area gets more familiar with the event, but we would have broken a three-day attendance record for the track [84,126] if not for some bad weather on Friday."