Alex Palou jumps in jubilation after his first-career victory (Chris Owens/IndyCar).
After a long off-season, IndyCar is back. A big crash, a first time winner, and strategy all played out on a Sunday afternoon for the NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
What an interesting first race we had as the season opener. About 30 seconds into the race, Josef Newgarden got loose coming up out of turn four and clipped his right rear into the grass, which caused the biggest on-track incident of the day. Five cars were involved in the accident, for Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay, it caused the two championship favorites for 2021 to retire from the event. Which would not be a good start to the season for those two, but early enough in the season where they can recover points as the season progresses.
When we finally went back under green on lap 8, Pato O'Ward and Alexander Rossi were easily the contenders early on. O'Ward, who started on pole for Sunday's race, did not like his car on the red alternate tires very early on as Rossi applied the pressure, but could not seem to make the pass on the young Spanish driver.
Working lap 10 is when we saw our second and final caution of the day by 2021 NTT IndyCar Series rookie of the year contender, and the former seven-time NASCAR Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson. Who spun coming out of turn 13 in a single-car incident that saw him lock the brakes without making contact to the outside wall. Johnson would go on to finish 19th, three laps down.
Once back under green, Rossi and O'Ward made pit stops on lap 19. O'Ward won the race of pit road and made some distance on Rossi after that stop. Which means that O'Ward and the Arrow Mclaren SP team have made their bed by taking the undercut and making this race a scheduled three stop race, while some other contenders would be shooting for a two stop race. On lap 19, Alex Palou, the second year driver for Chip Gannasi Racing, took the lead and had a 2.7 second lead over Will Power.
Some time has passed as we reach the one third of the scheduled race distance of 90 laps. Palou extended his lead to 6.6 seconds over Will Power. Moving on to the rest of the top 5 at this time we have in thrid place is Scott Dixion, in forth Marcus Erricson, and in fifth place, rookie of the year contender Roman Grosjean.
Moving on to lap 37 after a sequence of green flag stops, Sebastian Bordais is now the leader, but we have to go back to the battle for third place as O'Ward passed Palou coming out of turn six. When this happened, Palou was given his fuel number to ensure that he can make it on the two stop strategy that his team played into. Coming to complete this lap, Bordais and second place Rinus Veekay made their second pit stop of that day. Which allowed O'Ward to finally regain the lead on lap 38.
But O'Ward didn't keep the lead long as with 48 laps to go, O'Ward made his second pit stop of the day, which gave the lead back to Palou, who again tried to stick to his two stop strategy. Which opened his lead over Power up to 10 seconds.
Then just as that was happening, we saw some tempers flare between Bordais and O'Ward as they both made slight contact which dropped O'Ward from 5th to 7th on the track.
Unfortantely for O'Ward, even thought there was no visible damage on his car. He would never see clean air again for the rest of the race as he went on to finish 4th. A solid day, but an obvious disappointing day for the young driver for the Arrow Mclaren SP team.
We move on with 10 laps to go in the Grand Prix of Alabama. The battle for the win started coming down to the young driver of Alex Palou and the veteran Will Power. Who outnumbered his