Pole sitter(!) Takuma Sato’s lead was seldom in doubt – except when he ran completely off course and nearly flipped in characteristic fashion with five to go – as the 500 winner cruised to only his fourth career IndyCar victory in a truly inverted race in Alabama. The previous run-on sentence is not a joke. He credited his Rahal Lanigan Letterman team for a “fantastic effort,” despite an incredibly slow first pit stop due to a lethargic left rear tire changer. Equally incredibly, Scott Dixon claimed his sixth 2nd place finish at Barber – out of ten races – as Honda swept its own podium with Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais coming home in third.
An inadvertently inverted starting grid with the Penskes oddly bringing up the rear led to a decidedly upside down result. One of the few highlights of the weekend occured when a street sweeper rolled over onto its side while at speed in between practices, nearly inverting itself. The accident was a good thing, as NBCSN’s abbreviated pre-race show had little to offer, although they did manage a real rarity in connecting on air with the two seater passenger. Oh, and an obviously jolly David “Santa” Letterman was in the house because Sato and Graham “man boobs” Rahal made up an all RLL front row.
A scrambled start saw Dale Coyne’s Santino Ferrucci go off course thanks to contact with Colton “Joaquin” Herta as Sato sandbagged for a seriously slow commencement. Bourdais passed Spencer Pigot for position as Dixon challenged Rahal, though as yet he was unable to pass. Deep in the field, Ed “Dubai” Jones was penalized with a drive through due to wildly jumping the green flag. Single file racing set in immediately because, as Marty Snider rightly said, the start is “one of the few passing opportunties” for IndyCars at the motorbike track that is Barber Motorsports Park.
Taku quickly jumped out to a sizable lead which he would relinquish only briefly all race long. After pitting early due to a poor qualifying effort, usually dominant Josef Newgarden began surging through the field to a fourth place finish, able to improve twelve spots on the day. He passed Alexander Rossi for position with just a few laps remaining, salvaging a decent showing out of an otherwise disappointing weekend for Team Penske.
Rahal encountered a throttle problem in the pits, taking twenty seven seconds for the stop and effectively ruining his race. Throttle thrombosis would eventually end his day prematurely, leading to a dead car. On the radio, Ragin’ Rahal yelled, “You guys may think it’s funny in there – it’s not funny in here!” Still more hilariously, Whinin’ Will Power also had a regrettable race, spinning out, holding up the field and struggling to keep it on track. He wound up eleventh.
While Bourdais led momentarily, his owner “Dollar Dale” Coyne frankly told the always cute Katie Hargitt they “need a yellow” for their two stop strategy to work. The Frenchman got it when Tony “time to call it quits” Kanaan cut off and forced Max “Paris” Chilton into the tire barrier at pit entrance soon after Rahal stalled with his aforementioned throttle issue on the back straight. In what we’re calling the “Power rule,” the pits were left open and stops occured prior to the caution in a controversial call by race control, particularly considering there’ve been no officially announced rules changes. Dixon beat Bourdais out of the pits however, upending his slick strategy – and race control’s Power play.
After a typically long yellow, the restart on lap sixty six saw Sato leading Dixon, Bourdais, Hinch and Rossi. With no changes at the front, Rossi quickly got around Hinch for fourth before getting passed in turn for position by Newkid. In a fitting conclusion to an intriguingly inverted race, Power comically rolled his car backwards into the pits after running out of fuel at the checkers.