The NTT IndyCar Series races at Barber Motorsports Park for the 2022 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday, May 1, 2022. The race broadcasts at 10:00 a.m. PT/1:00 p.m. ET on NBC and streams live on Peacock.
When the NTT IndyCar Series returns to Alabama on Sunday, it will be under vastly different circumstances than in 2021. Thanks to the schedule reshuffling necessitated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Barber was the first race of the 2021 IndyCar season—and Alex Palou’s first victory of the year, on his way to the IndyCar championship.
Palou is in fine shape to make it back-to-back victories; he qualified third on Saturday and so will start in the second row. But all eyes will be on the pole sitter, Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing. Not only was it ECR’s first pole of the season, but VeeKay beat out his better-known competitors by a wide margin. That bodes well for him in a fairly strong season so far. He’s had two Top 10 finishes in three races, and finished sixth in his only other start at Barber.
The other story is just a few cars further back in the field. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi posted his second consecutive strong qualifying run this week, and will start fifth. Rossi’s struggles over the last few years have been well-documented, with the rumor mill continuing to churn out ideas that he’ll leave Andretti when his contract expires this year in order to get a fresh start someplace else. But the No. 27 driver might be turning things around well enough already—he finished eighth last month in Long Beach. Rossi has two Top 5’s in this race, so if he can post another good result at Barber, the momentum will finally be swinging in his favor.
As with every race, rampant speculation surrounds the drivers who didn’t make it into the Fast 6. They include Rossi’s teammates Romain Grosjean (who starts eighth) and Colton Herta (who will roll off tenth). Neither of those are poor starting positions but they’re not what critics expect from the typically fast Herta and Grosjean, who has some high expectations of his own taking over for Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 Honda. Both drivers should still be in the mix, though it’s worth watching to see if Herta pushes hard early to make up some ground, particularly with what happened at Long Beach in his rear view mirror.
Barber has been an up-and-down track in recent years, though nowhere near as frustrating as venues like Texas or last year’s inaugural Nashville event. It usually provides solid racing but sometimes the speed can taper off in certain years (the average MPH dropped from 108.8 in 2017 to 93.3 in 2018, and then went back up again). Any idea of what the track will do in 2022 is hypothesizing at best, but based on the qualifying results, there should be a fair amount of action.
VeeKay leading the field to green is intriguing given that he’s fast but can sometimes take bold risks; will he stay out front, and if so, will he force the field to react to him rather than focus on their own strategies? With drivers who are typically aggressive scattered throughout the first few rows, will there be a scramble to assert authority that could lead to an early caution (or more than one)? What about folks like Scott Dixon, who missed the Fast 12 entirely and needs to make up ground, but who knows better than anyone that patience is a virtue in the NTT IndyCar Series?
There’s a fair amount of unpredictability involved because of the shakeup in the qualifying results. Some front-runners are indeed up front at Barber, but others aren’t, and Sunday’s race will come down to whether or not the big names are willing to wait for their opportunity. Aggressiveness has cost some drivers wins and good results in the past few seasons, whether it’s wearing down their tires (like second-place starter Pato O’Ward) or making mistakes (like Herta). With the aggressive drivers scattered in the field, there’s no safe place once the green flag waves at the 2022 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
The 2022 IndyCar season continues with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at 10:00 a.m. PT/1:00 p.m. ET today. The race airs live on NBC and Peacock.
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