March 31, 2012  |   By John Oreovicz

Watch To Watch: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

LEEDS, AL – Wow, what was the last time you remember a jumbled-up grid like that for an IZOD IndyCar Series race that wasn’t the result of crazy weather?

After his solid victory in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it’s not a surprise that Helio Castroneves claimed pole position for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

But no one could have predicted that the fastest man in practice at Barber Motorsports Park – and at St. Pete, for that matter – would line up ninth for Sunday’s 90-lap race.

Team Penske’s Will Power had his fastest lap of the second qualifying session disallowed because he set it at a time when a local yellow flag was displayed. Drivers are supposed to slow for local yellows, and apparently Power didn’t during the 1:09.75 second effort that was unofficially the fastest of the Barber weekend.

The local yellow caused by Ryan Hunter-Reay’s spin was quickly changed to a red flag so his Andretti Autosport DW12-Chevrolet could be moved to a safe spot. The red flag ended the session, leaving Castroneves on pole and Power and several other drivers fretting about their chances for Sunday on a circuit where it is notoriously difficult for Indy cars to pass.

“‎Will was fastest in practice and it’s a shame he didn’t get a fair chance to show what he had in qualifications,” commented Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. 

The red flag during the second qualifying session also affected Power’s teammate Ryan Briscoe, who will line up 12th.

But both Penske drivers fared better than defending IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, who failed to advance out of his qualifying group. The Scotsman will start Sunday’s race from an unfamiliar 18th place.

“Lack of balance overall really is what we dealt with - lack of track time too,” Franchitti stated. “We haven't been great so far and it didn’t help that the second qualifying group was stout. There was a lot of competition there.

“Not where we want to be but we'll go back and work on it.”

So, what to watch for on Sunday?

 

  • Can Castroneves control the race from his 37th career pole position? If he repeats his 2010 victory at Barber, it will be his 12th win from the pole.
     
  • Can James Hinchcliffe earn his first IndyCar Series race win after qualifying a career-best second?
     
  • Will surprise Firestone Fast Six qualifiers Mikes Conway (4th) and JR Hildebrand (5th) carry that impressive form into the race?
     
  • Does Power have able to pass anybody in a car that last week he said is impossible to pass with, or will he need a radical strategy call to contend for the win?
     
  • Can Franchitti salvage anything from a terrible weekend on a track that has not been especially kind to him in the past?
     
  • Does Honda have anyone other than Scott Dixon (qualified 3rd) who they can count on as a regular front runner?
     
  • Can Sebastien Bourdais drag a Lotus into the top ten?