April 23, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) If ever there was a track where Ryan Hunter-Reay can count on a pick-me-up, it's Barber Motorsports Park.

The two-time defending race champion returns to Alabama this weekend for Sunday's Indy Grand Prix of Alabama after a rough start to the season that included a disappointing performance in Long Beach and a penalty that still mystifies Hunter-Reay.

He built momentum with last year's win at Barber and went on to win the Indianapolis 500.

''That set the tone,'' Hunter-Reay said. ''I think we went to the Indy GP, finished second in that one and then we went and won the big one, won the Indy 500. It was a pretty good stretch, I think, for us as a team, and hopefully we can get going on the same tone here this year.''

This season hasn't started smoothly despite a Top-10 finish in the opener at St. Petersburg. He was 13th at Long Beach after being involved in a three-car accident at New Orleans in what IndyCar said was ''avoidable contact,'' docking Hunter-Reay three points and placing him on probation for three races.

He said he showed series officials video of similar situations at New Orleans ''that didn't get even a review, one being the first lap with Will Power and Tony Kanaan.''

''Tony tried an outside move and Will tracked out and Tony went off in the weeds,'' Hunter-Reay said. ''I just don't understand it, really, and I kind of went through that with them and we talked about a bunch of things, and I let them know how I feel about it.

''I think they opened up a bit of a can of worms there because it puts them in a tough spot here in the future and we'll see things that are very similar to that that they have to call now.''

Recent history indicates the defending series champion can significantly improve his mood and his points standing in Alabama, where he started from the pole two years ago.

Team Penske's Power and Helio Castroneves had won the first three races at Barber before Hunter-Reay broke that stranglehold.

He coasted to a victory in the rain-shorted Alabama race last year, which ended under caution. That came two weeks after Hunter-Reay touched off what turned into a seven-car pileup with an ill-timed attempt to pass Josef Newgarden.

Scott Dixon, who has finished on the podium in each of his five Barber races, said Hunter-Reay is ''a hell of a competitor'' and that this is one of the tracks where he excels.

''He's very competitive, aggressive,'' Dixon said Thursday. ''Obviously if you look at how he won the Indy 500 last year, he's very forceful. He just generally does a great job, and the team obviously is good in a lot of areas, too. It's the same for me. A lot of credit goes to the team for what we've achieved.

''When you see him put his head down, you know it's going to be a tough day.''

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