Hunter-Reay outruns Dixon for Barber win
Birmingham, AL (Sports Network) - Defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed his first victory of the season after holding off Scott Dixon in the closing laps of Sunday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
Hunter-Reay also denied Team Penske its fourth win in as many IndyCar races at this 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course in North Alabama. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural race here in 2010, and Will Power scored victories in the previous two events.
Prior to his win, Hunter-Reay had finished no better than 12th at Barber.
"I was driving my tail off trying to stay in front of Dixon," Hunter-Reay said. "There was a lot of great racing out there, and it's just great to get a win. It's a good way to start the season."
Hunter-Reay started on the pole and led 53 of 90 laps. The Andretti Autosport driver overtook Castroneves for the lead with 14 laps to go and then beat Dixon to the finish line by 0.6 seconds.
It was Hunter-Reay's 10th career IndyCar victory. He won four races during his 2012 title season.
"It shows what we're about," he said. "It shows that last year wasn't a fluke. We really worked for it today."
Two weeks ago, Hunter-Reay finished 18th in the season-opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. after he suffered a mechanical issue with his car late in the race.
Dixon has now finished second in all four races at Barber.
"Today was a day of catch up, a big fumble at the start with Will (Power) and it backed the whole line up, and we dropped to like sixth or seventh," Dixon said. "I think we had the speed to win the race, but we were just playing catch up all day."
Castroneves' third-place finish allowed him to take the points lead. The Brazilian placed second at St. Pete. He holds a nine-point advantage over Dixon.
"It wasn't a win, but for us for the championship, it is good and right now we just have to keep going," Castroneves said.
Charlie Kimball finished fourth, while Power took the fifth spot.
Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti, Justin Wilson, Josef Newgarden and rookie Tristan Vautier completed the top-10.
A.J. Allmendinger ran among the top-10 for most of the race, but Allmendinger stalled his No. 2 Penske car during a late-race pit stop and wound up finishing 19th.
"All in all, today was a good day, and there are a lot of positives to take out of it," Allmendinger said. "We had a good start, and I thought I was pacing myself well. We could have had a top-10 day without the couple breaks against us."
Allmendinger is scheduled to compete in the April 21 race in Long Beach, Calif. and then the May 26 Indianapolis 500.
There was only one caution at Barber, which occurred on the second lap. Debris was spotted in turn 7 following contact between Graham Rahal and Oriol Servia on the opening lap. During the four-lap caution period, James Hinchcliffe suffered a flat left-rear tire and came to a halt on the track. The wheel fell off his car when it was being towed back to pit lane, therefore ending his day with a 26-place finish. Hinchcliffe claimed his first IndyCar win at St. Pete. He qualified 20th for Barber.
"We got hit on lap one, and when we got the call for one to go (for the green flag), the wheel came off," Hinchcliffe said. "I was hoping they were going to let us tow back and throw a new tire on because nothing else was bent. But you dig yourself in a hole, qualify back there and these things happen. It's a weekend to forget."
Dario Franchitti, the four-time series champion, finished 25th for the second straight race. Franchitti experienced a mechanical problem midway through the event. He has accumulated just 10 points for the season, which places him 26th (last) in the championship standings.
"We had a header problem on the car, and that led to some electrical issues that took out the clutch," Franchitti said. "The (No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing team) worked real hard to get the car back together. Tough day for us."
04/07 20:55:14 ET