Random Thoughts On Barber

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There was probably enough gushing from me yesterday about how happy I was to finally see Nashville native Josef Newgarden earn his first win in the Verizon IndyCar series. I’ll try not to gush anymore, but suffice it to say that I was very pleased and proud of him. Now that he has finally gotten that first win, I think you can count him as one of the favorites at just about any track the series goes to.

But there were other things to take away from yesterday’s race. First of all, Honda had a much better showing in the race than they showed in practice. Graham Rahal was racy all weekend and has continued to show signs that he is finally putting all together. But there were other Honda drivers that showed speed and not due to fluky situations. James Hinchcliffe and all three Andretti cars showed that they could keep up and race with the Chevys.

Meanwhile, many of the Chevy teams had an off day yesterday. Other than Scott Dixon coming in third, the other Ganassi cars were mostly silent. Charlie Kimball finished twelfth, Tony Kanaan was thirteenth and Sage Karam came in eighteenth.

Will Power was the highest finishing Penske car, after serving a drive-through penalty and salvaging fourth. Simon Pagenaud finished ninth, Juan Montoya was fourteenth and Helio Castroneves ended up fifteenth after starting on the pole. So much for the Penske juggernaut everyone was fretting about after St. Petersburg.

There are those that love to hate on Barber, road courses and IndyCar in general. Nothing will change that. But you will have a hard time convincing me that this race was boring or not entertaining. There was a lot going on, and it ended up with a very popular winner. What more could you want?

TV Coverage: Obviously, I have not watched the race broadcast, but I plan to tonight. But it had Steve Matchett in the booth from Formula one, so it had to be good. I’ll be interested to see how something that looked so good in person, plays out on television.

Honda Presence: Although Honda has been woefully lacking in performance on the track this season, yesterday’s race notwithstanding – they have really stepped up in their promotional efforts at this race they have sponsored since its inception in 2010. Honda has always provided the courtesy shuttles from the parking lots to the paddock, but this year, you are greeted by a fleet of brand-new Honda automobiles as you enter the park.

Their signage is everywhere and they have a very interactive display in the IndyCar Fan Zone. It’s a shame they have been behind Chevy since the debut of the oval kits in open testing last month, but yesterday’s performance has to up their spirits.

Decent Crowd: As I mentioned yesterday, the crowds here have been good all weekend, despite threatening weather on Saturday. Yesterday for the race, the spectator crowd was good, but not the largest I’ve seen here. I assume people were scared away by the thought of sitting in the mud. But this is a savvy crowd and they were very excited to see a native southerner from just up I-65 come away with the win.

This race may not usually be the most enticing on television, even though yesterday’s race was a thriller. But it’s a great event to attend. I would highly recommend to anyone that lives within a day’s drive to try to make this event sometime. But unlike other events on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – this date does not seem to be in peril. The track seems to love having IndyCar come to its track and the attendance seems to grow every year. The future is very bright regarding IndyCar and Barber Motorsports Park.

Support Races: Unlike some tracks that seem to lack a lot of on-track activity on their weekend schedule – there seemed to be no down-time whatsoever this entire weekend. As soon as one series finished using the track, another was lined up.

Unlike many, I’m not one that follows the support series. I can’t name more than three Indy Lights drivers off the top of my head. But as a racing fan, it was very enjoyable to go onto the backstretch and watch the various support series from the wooded areas. If you are a die-hard fan of US F2000 or the Pirelli World Challenge, I would think a weekend at Barber would be like dying and going to heaven.

Fan Friendly: Although there is no shortage of adult beverages on-hand, I never see anyone acting drunk, stupid and obnoxious. Instead of looking for different venues for getting drunk, like the patrons at some tracks – these are race fans and families that simply don’t mind an occasional beer while they watch racing.

Since I’m fortunately beyond the child-rearing age, it’s not a great selling point to me that I noticed a huge increase of kids at Barber this year. The Fan Village has many parts geared towards small children. The viewing areas are close to the track so that kids can get a sense of speed and see how good the cars look. That’s important. If we hook them while they’re young, they can become our next generation of IndyCar fans.

All In All: This was, without a doubt, my favorite Verizon IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park – and I’ve been to every one of them. I would say that even if Newgarden had run out of fuel and someone else won. It was good to see Honda fight back, and it was good to see Graham Rahal get on the podium. Four winners from four different teams to start the season is about as good as IndyCar could hope for.

George Phillips

Please note:  I will TRY to load up some photos from this past weekend for a special post on TUESDAY. – GP

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27 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Barber”

  1. So, I’m sure your excellent local newspaper has this on the front page, right?

    No?

    Front of sports section?

    What’s that you say? One paragraph on page seven near the classified ads? 😉

  2. Brian McKay in Florida Says:

    I’m glad that you enjoyed another wonderful IndyCar race and Barber Motorsports Park/ZOOM Motorsports hospitality. I sure enjoyed viewing the race – and qualifying – on television. I’m glad that ‘Joe New’ had his long-strived-for ‘breakthrough.’ I’ll expect more success from CFH Racing.

  3. Really happy for Joseph Newgarden. I would say he is my favorite of the younger drivers. Really happy he got his first win at an almost hometown track for him. I had planned on going- making the race from Louisville. With my parents in town and two small children, it proved to be too monumental of a task driving 6 hours in one car to get everyone down there. My Dad kept reminding me how bad the weather was going to be (he really did not want to sit in a car with kids) and low and behold, it was a beautiful day… of course. I am disappointed I missed it. Its sounded like a good race. I have yet to see it. I dvr’d it -when I get a chance. Barber is such a cool venue and the fans seemed to have embraced it wholeheartedly. It is encouraging to read that the race is solid and has firmly established itself as a mainstay on the calendar. Hopefully I’ll be there next year.

  4. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I watched it un-live via DVR and can say i think they coverage of all the action this race presented was quite good. I’m not a huge Matchett fan but he was enthralled at the end with the prospect and subsequent running down of the leaders by Rahal.

    Great job by production to follow the various stories going on all over the track and catching us up on events that they missed live.

    I’d agree this was the best Barber race, and one of the 5 best overall R/S races I’ve seen in the DW12 era.

    • Me too, DZ, on the television coverage. I think it was the best that I have seen in a while. They covered a lot of interesting duels throughout the field and presented the beauty of Barber very well.

  5. SkipinSC Says:

    I too am happy for Josef; maybe even moreso for Sarah Fisher who had the guts and the will to build her own team, something of a throwback to the bygone days of IndyCar racing. It hasn’t been easy: Hell, at times it’s been heartbreaking. How well I remember Sarah crying after their win at Kentucky because Dollar General had decided to go racing in NASCAR, leaving her without a sponsor and a very limited future it seemed. Through it all, she persevered and now, with Newgarden, she has a driver capable of winning every time out, and a “partner” capable of winning on any oval in Ed Carpenter.

    This is about the first time (other than the Inaugural GP Indy last year,) that I have been GLUED to a road or street race. Most of the time, “twisties” have been relegated to the DVR. That’s how yesterday started, but once the racing got going, I could not turn away.

    Now for my “rant of the day.” I know NBCSN has a lot of balls in the air with F-1, Premier League, NHL Playoffs, and NASCAR coming soon. But would it hurt to do SOME promoting of IndyCar on your crawl at the bottom of the screen? Particularly with some of the new faces rising to the top of the sport, it would seem that the time to capitalize on good stories is NOW. Much as I hate to say it, promotion of IndyCar events on NBCSN has gotten almost as scarce as it is on ESPN.

    • How about a 2am Sunday morning airing of qualifying? How can that not have been mentioned yet?

      • Qualifying wound up being televised almost live on Saturday afternoon/evening, after an NHL playoffs scheduling change forced a move.

        • Ballyhoo Says:

          Really? It would have been nice to know that before I headed out the door in the morning. It was taken off the schedule late Sat night, so my DVR missed it completely. End of gripe. Thanks.

          • Yeah, I mean, it’s aggravating, but I don’t know how it can really be totally avoided. By all accounts, there’s probably only 200k or so of us rabid crazies out there who are watching IndyCar qualifying, and the average NBCSN NHL Playoff game probably attracts at least 3-4 times as many folks, if not more. IndyCar qualifying is going to get jerked around to an open spot on the schedule every time, in that situation. The race, I’m sure, is a different deal (I’d bet that their time slots are contractually mandated at the time that the schedule is announced), but qualifying is always gonna be more of a stepchild.

  6. Finally a good Indycar race! And a good race at Barber? Firestone had a good tire combination which hopefully will continue at other tracks this year. The red tires fell off but most teams still used them for the majority of the race. Newgarden and Rahal doing well was incredible. The fact that both drivers outright passed a large number of Penske and Ganassi driver was heartening. I’m hoping both can continue this throughout the year. I’ve waited a long time for a Newgarden win. I really think he can win more this year at both the ovals and road/street courses. A Newgarden win at the Indy 500 would be a pretty big deal. I want Newgarden to contend for the title. Unlikely? Yes. Possible? Maybe. Newgarden was fast last year at the ovals and he has ECR power this year which won 3 races over 2014. Newgarden is a consistent fixture in the top 6 of qualifying. The big improvement Newgarden needs is avoiding the bad luck and incidents which have robbed him of at least 5 wins (Long Beach, Sao Paolo, Mid Ohio, ect). On a related note Newgarden needs to avoid the mid season slump he seems to get a lot. Last year, for instance, he got off to a great start but from Indy through about Iowa he struggled.

    I’ve stood by Rahal over the last few years. I want younger drivers and American drivers to win, and seeing Rahal push past Helio, Dixon, and RHR was incredible. Rahal is having an incredible season. He has consistently been the best Honda since testing. If Honda is good on the ovals then Rahal could be positioned to finish pretty high in the points this year and get a number of wins. Although this hasn’t been reported I assume something about the Honda aero kits clicks with Rahal’s driving style. Hinchcliffe had his first fast race of the year. Can he keep it up? He’s got 2 good results and 2 awful results. Currently Hinch is ahead of Pagenaud in points which I find humorous.

    I’m excited for the Indy GP since it’s another road course (and probably the best one Indycar runs in terms of being wide and having passing zones). I want more of this (passing+Newgarden+Rahal) and less of what we saw at St. Pete and Long Beach for the rest of the season.

    • Ballyhoo Says:

      I keep thinking I will wake up and realize it was all a dream! NOT! Let’s hope both Graham and Josef keep it up.

    • those reds going off so fast made a huge improvement in the race. sometimes they seem to last as long as the blacks.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Honda has got to be extra thrilled that they were not only on par with Chevrolet in race trim at Barber, but that for the first time this season they had an actual edge over the Chevy cars in at least one area, tire wear.

    By the middle of the first stint it was clear that the Hondas were much easier on their tires than the Chevrolets, especially the Ganassi cars (as Sage Karam will tell you). In his post-race interview, Dixon cited tire wear as a major factor aside from fuel saving as to why he could not hold off Rahal in the closing laps. Had Rahal been able to get by Dixon one lap sooner…

    Great race at a great facility. Hope to return someday. Thank you for another excellent weekend of coverage, George and Susan.

    • “For the first time this season [Honda] had an actual edge over the Chevy cars in at least one area, tire wear.”

      That could come in reeeeeaaaaaaallll handy in a month or so when the temps at the majority of the tracks start to look like the 80-85 degrees that we saw yesterday at Barber…

    • I would say his vicious fight with Ryan Hunter-Reay also contributed to his not being able to catch Newgarden. He was very difficult to get by.

  8. Randy Holbrook Says:

    I think you will love watching the television replay. The coverage was outstanding. You could feel the genuine excitement in Steve Matchette’s voice as Rahal was making his charge. Congratulations to Joseph – hopefully a star was born yesterday. I hope you recorded enough for all the interviews yesterday – Montoya & Helio were hilarious at the end.

  9. “If you are a die-hard fan of US F2000 or the Pirelli World Challenge, I would think a weekend at Barber would be like dying and going to heaven.”

    Yep. An unbelievable day, all the way around. A fantastic race with a new winner, (mostly) great support races, perfect weather at the most beautiful track on the schedule…you absolutely couldn’t ask for more. Thanks to you and Susan for your coverage this weekend…and, of course, the beverage at the end of the race. I owe you both one. We’ll make that happen soon.

    On to the Month of May.

  10. I was going to attend in person, but my wife had to go out of town, and I didn’t feel like making the drive from the Florida east coast to Birmingham by myself, so I watched live. Man, what a great race! That was certainly the best of the year, the best ever at Barber, and on my short list as one of the most entertaining I’ve seen, anywhere.

    We had a thrilling ending, a great win by Josef, drama with Rahal threatening, Helio running out of fuel, Power coming back from 23rd to finish 4th, Dixon on the podium yet again at Barber, and so many other great things I can’t remember all of them.

    Heck, I’m still so excited I can’t think straight. Fantastic race!

  11. The first stint of the race proved the reds fell off a cliff at the end of a fuel run. Why on earth did Dixon, Helio, and some others put them on for the last stint which was a full fuel run?

    Rahal made the end of the race spectacular. Matchett’s call on the last 10-15 laps was just as spectacular.

    The Montoya-Helio interview was very funny. It seemed like Helio got Montoya to shut up before he laid into Mr. Dracone pretty hard. That was a very interesting exchange.

    Four races-four different winners. Back to Indy boys.

  12. I listened to the radio for the pre-race and Paul Page and crew are as good as ever. There was an interview with Helio conducted by Hinch that was terrific. I ran a pre-race errand with my son and we are looking forward to the 500 Qualifying coverage.

  13. Best race I’ve watched on TV in a long time. The product doesn’t get much better than this. Can’t wait for May

  14. Ron Ford Says:

    The only things better than this would be peace in the world and all the politicians getting laryngitis.

  15. If all twisties were as good as that race, I wouldn’t miss racing on ovals nearly as much. Kudos to Honda, Josef, Rahal, NBCSports and to Mr. Barber for investing in his scenic track and Indycar.

    Looking forward to the INDY GP now–I would not have said that two days ago. And really looking forward to the 500–who knows how these cars will run?

  16. Tonight David Letterman gave major props to Graham Rahal on his show. Dave then proceeded to give a Steak and Shake shake to everyone in the house including the band and himself. He then showed some excellent footage of Graham getting by Dixon toward the end. The footage looked awesome. Of course, Dave’s audience tonight was many times more than that of the race TV audience. Dave then followed all that up with Scarlett Johansson. The man knows how to promote.

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