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What to watch for: IndyCar at Barber

Apr 7, 2013, 2:01 PM EDT

Ryan Hunter-Reay AP

Bounce-back for RHR, Power?: IndyCar’s two main championship contenders from a year ago make up today’s front row for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but polesitter Ryan Hunter-Reay (pictured) and defending Barber champion Will Power had dismal results in the season opener last month at St. Petersburg. They know that they can’t afford another early “mulligan” today.

AJ Allmendinger returns: The former Champ Car racer is returning to open-wheel action on one of IndyCar’s most physically demanding tracks. He’s been working hard to prepare for the rigors of battling Barber, and got in some test time there during the “Spring Training” sessions in March. But testing is one thing and racing a full field – and a very deep one, at that – is another. A Top-10 finish would be a solid result for him to work from as he heads toward Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500.

Get a grip: A newly-resurfaced track at Barber has played a big role in the higher speeds we’ve seen this weekend, but so have modified Firestone Firehawks. Compared to the tires used in last year’s race at Barber, this year’s versions of both the primary blacks and alternate reds have a softer compound. It’ll be interesting to see which drivers can protect their tires (especially their rear ones) along the course of a stint and stretch them out a little further.

Caught in the web: The main “hot spot” for passing at Barber Motorsports Park is Turn 5 (Charlotte’s Web), which is a left-hand hairpin that is the slowest part of the course. Drivers have two chances to make up ground here with an inside pass at either the apex of the corner or coming off of it at Turn 6. Even with the emergence of new passing zones in last year’s race, Charlotte’s Web remains the signature corner at Barber and you can expect a lot of action here all day long.

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