By: Spencer Neff
April 4, 2019 | 7:55 AM
Since hosting its first IndyCar Series race in 2010, the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama has been known for picturesque scenery and exciting on-track battles.
With that in mind, the winner of this week’s Fan Vote and subject of the Barber Motorsports Park IndyCar Flashback is the 2016 race.
Following a spectacular on-track duel for the victory, the winner of this race continued to cement his status as a championship favorite.
Pagenaud fends off Rahal for second consecutive win
After struggling in 2015, things started to click for Simon Pagenaud in 2016. In his second year at Team Penske, the 2012 Rookie of the Year earned his first win since 2014 and extended his points lead at Long Beach.
One week later, the IndyCar Series would head to Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
In qualifying, Pagenaud continued his hot streak. While KV Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais set the track record in Round 2, Pagenaud took the pole for the first time in his career on a natural terrain road course.
Lining up next to Pagenaud was his Team Penske teammate Will Power, the 2011 and 2012 winner at Barber Motorsports Park.
The 90-lap race did not begin cleanly for the field. At the race start, Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz made contact with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Mikhail Aleshin. Aleshin then made contact with Jack Hawksworth of A.J. Foyt Racing. Due to the contact, the green flag did not wave while the first lap was run under the yellow flag.
The second attempt proved to be successful and the race was on.
In Turn 5, Bourdais made contact with Scott Dixon. Although the Chip Ganassi Racing driver continued on, he was shuffled back in the pack while Bourdais was given a drive-through penalty for the avoidable contact.
Meanwhile, Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya charged from last to 12th, making up nine positions in five laps. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti also moved up from 19th to 10th early on.
As Pagenaud continued to lead, 2015 race winner Josef Newgarden moved past Power for second. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver would be a threat this year, and for years to come at Barber.
By Lap 20, Pagenaud headed to pit lane and relinquished the lead to 2015 Barber runner-up Graham Rahal. Rahal, who had not led a lap since his 2015 win at Mid-Ohio the previous August, stayed at the front for two laps.
Once Rahal pitted, Pagenaud again took over the top spot and continued to dominate. As his teammates ran 1-2, Montoya continued his march through the field despite issues with his car’s gearbox.
In all, Pagenaud led 60 consecutive laps despite the two pit stop cycles. It marked the longest streak of consecutive laps led at Barber since Power led wire-to-wire in his 2011 win.
Power saw his chances at a record third Barber win slip away after a lengthy pit stop. The issues for Power allowed Graham Rahal to sneak back into contention for the win. Despite Pagenaud’s dominance, lapped traffic became a factor late in the race.
On Lap 82, Rahal used the traffic to his advantage. In Turn 6, he got to the back of Pagenaud’s car. After his left-front wing made contact with the leader’s right-rear bumper pod, Rahal took the lead as Pagenaud went off track.
Even with the lead, Rahal’s front wing had been damaged for a second time in the waning laps. Rahal also would encounter more lapped traffic as he continued to lead.
Four laps later, Pagenaud closed in on Rahal. As the two drivers fought past lapped traffic, Rahal’s front wing flaps were finally clipped off. Just before they crossed the finish line on Lap 86, Pagenaud finally made the pass on Rahal for the lead.
With his damaged front wing, Rahal continued to lose ground on Pagenaud. Behind Rahal, Power and Newgarden continued to close the gap.
When the checkered flag flew, Pagenaud earned the victory by 13.748 seconds over Rahal. Although Rahal held on for second place, Power was passed for third by Newgarden just before the white flag. Montoya finished fifth behind Power.
The win marked the second in a row for Pagenaud after a winless debut season with Penske in 2015. It was his sixth career win and first on a natural terrain road course since 2014’s Indianapolis Grand Prix. The win also gave Pagenaud his first victory from pole.
Despite falling short of a victory at Barber again, Rahal earned his first podium since the 2015 win at Mid-Ohio. For Ed Carpenter Racing’s Newgarden, his third-place finish gave him a podium for the first time since running second at Pocono in 2015.
Two straight wins and a 13th-place finish by Scott Dixon extended Pagenaud’s lead in the points to 48 markers over Dixon after four races. Having taken the points lead with a runner-up finish to Dixon at Phoenix two weeks earlier, Pagenaud would not relinquish it.
During the 2016 season’s final 12 races, Pagenaud earned three more wins (his winning streak extended to 3 at the IndyCar GP on May 14) and five more pole positions en route to the championship.
Although he completed every lap the following season and won twice, Pagenuad finished 13 points shy of his teammate Newgarden for the title. This weekend, Pagenaud will look to end a winless streak that dates back to the 2017 finale in Sonoma, 19 races ago.
Rahal, who saw a breakout season in 2015 with two wins and a career-best fourth-place finish in points, won in August of 2016 at Texas and finished fifth in points. Like Pagenaud, Rahal will look to break a lengthy winless drought. His last win was 28 races ago, when he swept the Dual in Detroit at Belle Isle.
Unlike the drivers he joined on the podium three years ago, Newgarden does not enter this weekend looking to break into the win column. His path to this year’s race also stands out.
At Texas Motor Speedway in June of 2016, Newgarden broke his collarbone in a violent crash. He recovered to win his first oval race at Iowa in July and finished fourth in points.
In 2017, he joined Team Penske. Since then Newgarden has won eight times, including the last two races at Barber Motorsports Park.
Despite winning three times in 2018, Newgarden finished fifth in points a year after taking the championship. Through the first two races of 2019, Newgarden also holds an 18-point lead over Colton Herta in the standings.
Note: Thank you as always to everyone who participated in our poll on Twitter to select this week’s IndyCar Flashback.
There will continue to be a poll on our Twitter page (@Open_Wheels) to determine the race profiled for IndyCar Flashback prior to each race weekend. Keep an eye out each race week for the poll to cast your vote.
Header Image By Chris Jones/INDYCAR