Prior winners lead the favorites for victory in IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama

IndyCar heads to scenic Barber Motorsports Park following great race

The IndyCar Series race at Long Beach was among the most-watched IndyCar races in years. It also drew the largest crowd since the series reunified with CART/Champ Car in 2008 at more than 192,000 people in attendance, plus a sellout crowd in grandstand seats.

Kyle Kirkwood took his first career IndyCar win in a controlling race. He started well, weathered multiple cautions and restarts, and defended against a strong challenge from two-time champion Josef Newgarden. The win pushes him up to fifth in the IndyCar Series championship standings.

Marcus Ericsson takes the top spot in the championship from Pato O’Ward thanks to a third-place finish and O’Ward’s problems, including contact with Scott Dixon. The series now heads to Alabama and Barber Motorsports Park. It’s one of the more picturesque tracks on the calendar, with many elevation changes and sweeping corners. Here’s a look at the odds for victory on Sunday:

Preseason favorites on top

Newgarden and O’Ward top the odds for victory on Sunday at +550. Newgarden already has a win in 2023 with his victory at the Texas Motor Speedway in round two. The Team Penske driver has the most wins in Alabama of any IndyCar driver (three), with the latest coming in the delayed 2018 event.

In 10 races there, he’s made the top five in half of them. After falling back from the front of the field in Long Beach to finish ninth, a win this weekend would give him momentum heading into the Indianapolis doubleheader.

Before his incident-filled race in Long Beach, O’Ward had two second-place finishes to open 2023. He’s also raced well in Alabama. He won last year’s event and took pole the year before. Long Beach was a poor showing for Arrow McLaren because of O’Ward’s 17th-place finish and teammates Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist taking 22nd and seventh, respectively. A strong showing again in Alabama would go a long way for his 2023 championship campaign.

Contenders, previous winners in the next group

After the two at the top, next up are Alex Palou and Scott McLaughlin, who are both +700.

Palou’s been one of the most consistent drivers to open 2023. He’s one of two drivers to finish eighth or higher in every race (him and Ericsson) and led laps in Long Beach and Texas. Though he only has two IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama, he’s performed incredibly well. He won from third in 2021 in his first race there and followed it with a second-place finish last year by just 0.98 seconds. It’s a small sample size, but he’s been a contender each time he’s come to Alabama.

McLaughlin has limited running in Alabama as well. In two races, he’s managed 14th and sixth. Team Penske has not won in Alabama since Newgarden’s last win in 2018. If they break that spell, it’d be a surprise from McLaughlin. He’s had an okay start to 2023 with a 13th-place finish to open the season in St. Petersburg, followed by sixth and 10th in Texas and Long Beach, respectively. It’d be a big jump up for him to win this weekend.

By contrast, Dixon (+800) is one of the most consistent drivers at Barber Motorsports Park. In 12 IndyCar races there, he’s finished in the top 10 every time. In 10 of those events, he’s made the top five. But the six-time IndyCar champion has never won the event. A win in Alabama would compensate for the disappointing result in Long Beach.

Four drivers are tied at +1000

Power’s won the Grand Prix of Alabama twice in 2011 and 2012. Besides those two wins, he’s made the top five seven times. Before 2022, he’d never qualified lower than ninth at a track that puts a premium on qualifying positions. Overtaking isn’t impossible at Barber Motorsports Park, but it takes time. Qualifying in the first couple of rows of the grid goes a long way.

Ericsson’s having a great start to 2023. A win in the season opener followed by eighth- and third-place finishes give him a 15-point lead over O’Ward. His three career races in Alabama have been solid. He’s finished between seventh and 12th. Given this form, a win would be surprising, but he’s been the best driver in 2023 so far.

Kirkwood’s first win last weekend marks a big step in his IndyCar career. He’ll need that momentum in a track he struggled with the previous year, starting 21st and finishing a lap down in 22nd.

Herta typically performs well on road courses, but Alabama is an aberration. He’s failed to finish the race twice. In 2019, fuel pressure problems cut his race short. In 2021, he crashed on lap 25. Last season, he completed his first Grand Prix of Alabama and took 10th place. A win from him would be a surprise as well.

Longer odds to consider for the Grand Prix of Alabama

Romain Grosjean (+1400) finally finished a race in 2023 with his second place in Long Beach. He’s shown pace in opening rounds, but late contact got in the way. His history in Alabama — 10th in 2021 and seventh in 2022 — is solid. If Long Beach is a sign of things to come, he’s worth a shot this weekend.

Rinus Veekay (+5000) led much of the race last year before O’Ward and Palou passed him following their final round of pit stops. He ended up 12 seconds off winner O’Ward. He still needs to finish inside the top 10 in any race of 2023 so far. A strong result in Alabama could turn things around early.

Predictions for the Grand Prix of Alabama

This race is typically uneventful or somewhat of a barnburner. Qualifying in the first couple of rows puts many drivers at a distinct advantage in either case. Of the top drivers in odds, Palou looks like a safe bet. He’s either won or come within a second of winning each time he’s raced in Alabama. A second win and his first of 2023 would close the gap at the top of the IndyCar standings.

If you want longer odds, Grosjean is the best choice. Andretti Autosport is coming off a strong showing with a 1-2-4 in Long Beach, and Grosjean’s finally shown he can follow through in races.

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