LEEDS, Alabama -- It was only fitting that when The Masters was the major sporting event of the day, the IZOD IndyCar Series held a race in a setting that could rival Augusta National for scenic beauty -- the picturesque Barber Motorsports Park. With fans lining the plush hillsides around the 17-turn, 2.38-mile road course to watch the high-speed IndyCar machines race around this course, it was a great day to enjoy a sun-splashed 85-degree day in central Alabama.
In the end, it was Will Power who proved to be the real "master" as he led flag-to-flag to score his 10th career IndyCar victory. While Power had it under control at the front of the field, there was plenty of action throughout the 90-lap race so let's take a look at the "Five Things we Learned from the IndyCar Race at Barber Motorsports Park."
Power is without a doubt the best street and road course racer in the series. All of Power's 10 IndyCar career wins have come on temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. His inability to win a race on an oval cost him the 2010 championship and the Australian driver is determined to win a race or two on the ovals in 2011, but will have to wait until the May 29 Indianapolis 500 before he gets his first crack at a track that is all left-hand turns.
Meantime, look for Power to continue to be the man to beat in the next two street and road course races beginning with next Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and the race in Sao Paulo Brazil on May 1.
As for his victory Sunday at Barber, the checkered flag was something he waited an entire year to get. One of Power's disappointments from 2010 was not winning this race after he was the fastest in every practice and started on the pole. He got his revenge on Sunday with a decisive flag-to-flag victory in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Power started on the pole and never looked back, defeating Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon by 3.3828-seconds.
"I'm very satisfied on winning it," Power said. "I was very determined this weekend. Last year, man, I had the best car in every practice session and didn't come away with the victory. Everybody on the crew felt the same way. It was a good day, trouble-free and everything went right. I just think our team as a whole is a lot more solid this year because we've been together a year. It's just all gelling well.
"It was just one of those days where you put everything together. I was very cool in the car. Dixon gave me a good run for my money at the end there. We were both pushing as hard as we possibly could."
While Power's prominence is on the series' street and road course races, he knows his path to a championship will be a victory on an oval. Once he accomplishes that he will be a complete IndyCar race driver.
Next up for Power is taming the streets of Long Beach, California. He drove to victory there in 2008 in the Champ Car Series Finale. While that race paid points in the IndyCar Series because it was part of a unified series, Power started on the pole and finished second in 2009 and 2010.
Now that Power has achieved redemption at Barber, look for him to be the "King of the Beach" next Sunday.
Although it was actually the side-by-side start and not the restarts at the Honda Grand Prix at St. Petersburg that caused havoc, IndyCar used the NASCAR-style restart rule for the second time on Sunday and it went much smoother. The field made it through the first two turns on the first lap before rookie James Hinchcliffe spun out of Turn 3. Also on that lap, rookie J.R. Hildebrand and Raphael Matos collided into each other in the exit of Turn 6 to bring out the first yellow flag.
But for the most part, the side-by-side restarts got a passing grade from the IndyCar competitors.
"That was just hard racing," said third-place finisher Dario Franchitti. "The side by side restarts there is one part you think, yeah, I'm going to have a chance to get the guys in front again, particularly when Scott Dixon and Will Power were so far off the road. Then the other part of your thinking is you just built this lead up on fourth and fifth and stuff, and they've all got a chance to have a go at you. So it definitely livens things up out there.
"It definitely allowed me to progress, which wouldn't have happened with single file restarts. It definitely closed things up. There was a lot of way on restarts, one, two, and three if we restart. But from that point of view it was a success."
There is a big difference in why they worked Sunday at Barber and did not at St. Petersburg two weeks ago. This is a natural terrain road course with runoff room if a driver gets pushed off course but at St. Pete, it's a temporary street course with little runoff area.
Next Sunday's race on the streets of Long Beach is another very tight street course and that could be a major issue for side-by-side restarts.
"I think here the style of track lends itself to a cleaner style," second-place finisher Scott Dixon said. "I think Long Beach is going to be a different story."
Even Sunday's race winner has his concerns about Long Beach's tight course.
"I think it's going to be really quick there," Power said. "I just worry about restarts. That's my biggest worry at that track, into turn one. It's just going to be worse than St. Petersburg."
Tony Kanaan believes he took advantage of IndyCar's side-by-side restarts to propel him into a near top-five finish.
"I think it was better," Kanaan said. "At least for the fans and for racing, it looked more exciting. I still believe we need to try to take care of each other a little more. I mean, every one of them we had a crash, so it's not a coincidence. But every one of them we have a lot of passing too, so it's a trade there. It's only the second race. I would give us a chance for us to settle in and make sure that that's going to work.
"Do I like it? I mean, it plays in my favor big time, but no, I don't. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to work for it and make it. If it's exciting for racing and for all of us, why not? We're going to have to figure it out. We're driving the cars. It's not like we crash all the time. Well, you're driving it. You have to take care of each other. You have to give each other room. Things are going to happen, but I'm 50 50 right now. I would say, yeah, it's playing in my favor right now. If it was single file, would I have passed that many cars? I don't think so. So we'll try to make it work."
Ryan Hunter-Reay tried to pass Ryan Briscoe for fourth place in Turn 7 on Lap 58. The two cars made contact, sending Briscoe's car flying off the course while Hunter-Reay was able to continue. He would be penalized for "avoidable contact" and had to come into the pits to serve the penalty.
Briscoe finished 21st and Hunter-Reay 14th but after the incidents the two drivers had much different views of the incident.
"Ryan was going quicker -- I'll give him that much credit -- but he was sticking his nose where it doesn't belong," Briscoe said. "I tried to give him room when we got down there and he jumped the curb and went straight into me. It's not a passing zone. It's frustrating because we had a great car today. I was just waiting to go on the Reds (the softer of the two tire compounds) and race the guys up front.
"That's Hunter-Reay. You are going to get that. It's his fault. It wasn't a passing zone and he drove straight into me. I was very surprised but I'm not surprised he's saying it's not his fault. He'll change his mind when he thinks about it a little bit."
Actually, Hunter-Reay didn't change his opinion of how the incident went down.
"I had a good car, made up a lot of spots on the restarts, had the right strategy and then had one of the first penalties of the year," Hunter-Reay said. "I was so much faster than everybody, I was on Briscoe's gearbox, his team was telling him to let me go. I popped out on him and when he lifted, I thought he gave me the corner and then he shut the door. I'm happy to get the first penalty of the year from IndyCar."
Nothing spices up a race like a good feud among two drivers and how often does it happen that the two drivers who are upset are both named Ryan?
Scott Dixon had an issue with Will Power on several of the restarts when he claimed that Power did not hold his side of the track and weaved into his lane, nearly driving him off the track and into the grass. This is the same rule that foiled Helio Castroneves at the end of last year's Edmonton race when he was black-flagged for drifting into the opposite lane before Turn 1.
Ironically, Dixon was the beneficiary of that penalty as he went on to win the race and Castroneves went into a fit of rage with IndyCar Series officials.
"Brian Barnhart (IndyCar Series president of competition) as usual did nothing about it," Dixon said. "If they are going to write these rules and say the person on the left has to be left of the center line and they don't enforce it, at least tell them. I spoke to Will after the race and he said nobody told him anything on the radio. I was all the way over into the grass. All in all, it wouldn't have changed much but it was a disaster waiting to happen."
Power contended that he was never told by any series official on the radio to maintain his line on the restart.
"I think the rule is you can be anywhere on the track after the start/finish line," Power said. "It's as simple as that. That is what they told us. If I had been told he was upset when he was almost in the grass I would have given him more room. He took a big weave at me but I would have helped him out there."
In the end, Dixon had Power in his sights but unless a deer ran out in front of the leader there was little chance of passing him.
"The car was pretty good the first 15-20 laps but to stay that close to Will at that point in the race the car lost a little downforce," Dixon said. "With the cars so tight, it's almost impossible to pass. I tried to push him as much as possible but it wasn't enough. It was frustrating but that's how it goes in racing. A win would have been nice."
Nobody hates starting at the back of the pack worse than Tony Kanaan, who started 24th out of 26 cars on Sunday. But no driver puts on a better show going from the back to the front than Kanaan, who finished sixth and passed 10 cars on the first lap.
"It was a little bit of luck, and a good start," Kanaan said. "I think we took advantage to pass a lot of cars on the start, and that actually changed my strategy. I'm not saying that I expected to win the race. I thought I had a top 15 car. To finish sixth, I guess I was a little bit off, but in a good way."
Kanaan has been a master at picking off cars from the back of the field. In last year's Indianapolis 500, Kanaan started last in the 33-car field and passed eight cars by the second turn.
Now, that's putting on a real show.