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The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Jimmie Johnson Makes Tour Debut

The 2021 IndyCar Series season kicks off on Sunday with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES season opener at Barber Motorsport Park was supposed to take place on April 11 but later was postponed to replace the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, which will serve as the season finale on Sept. 26.

Initially, the season would have begun with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 7, to keep with the tradition of St. Petersburg playing host to the season opener, but the plans fell through due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The St. Petersburg race was postponed to April 25, marking the second consecutive year but only the third time since 2009 that the season will start outside of St. Petersburg.

Honda Indy Grand Prix
Stacy Revere/Getty Images/AFP

Amongst other schedule changes due to the pandemic, the 17-race calendar will not feature Iowa Speedway, while all tracks that were unable to play host to races in 2020 return this year, except for Circuit of the Americas and Richmond Raceway.

The actual biggest news in IndyCar is the debut of seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. Imagine that, Jimmie Johnson back to being a rookie.

Let’s take a closer look at this race along with some of the racers you may want to bet online on.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Last Race

The 2019 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was the third round of the 2019 IndyCar Season. The race was held on April 7, with Takuma Sato claiming the checkered flag from the pole position, marking only his fourth career IndyCar victory. Sato went on to win two more races since, including the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 and 2020 Indianapolis 500 race.

Sato ended the race ahead of Scott Dixon (+2.3874) in second and Sebastien Bourdais (+2.7933) in third. Josef Newgarden, who won this race in 2018, had to settle for a fourth-place finish (+7.9721s), although he did not disappoint with his driving, having gained 12 spots after starting the race 16th on the grid.

Six drivers have won the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, and three have won it more than once. The list of past winners includes Hélio Castroneves (2010), Will Power (2011, 2012), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2013, 2014), Josef Newgarden (2015, 2017, 2018), Simon Pagenaud (2016), and Takuma Sato (2019).

Drivers to Watch Out For

Scott Dixon

The defending 2020 series champions Scott Dixon returns, chasing history. If he can repeat his success from the last term, Dixon would claim his seventh championship and tie the legendary A.J. Foyt for the most titles in IndyCar.

Interestingly, Dixon has never managed to win back-to-back titles; he has won championships in 2013 and 2015 but managed only a third-place finish in 2014. While he then went on to win championships in 2018 and 2020, he was only fourth in 2019.

What’s more, Dixon has not won a single race in Alabama in nine starts. That said, he has finished outside the top-three only once during that stretch (2018) and has managed six runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes here.

Jimmie Johnson

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion joined CGR in a road-and-street course program for the 2021 season. The 45-year-old will keep his iconic No. 48 in the transition, as he gets to live his childhood dream of competing in the IndyCar Series.

Although Johnson has no experience in IndyCar, he is still one of the best drivers in the world and is besides Dixon regarded as one of the biggest talents behind the wheel, albeit in their respective series. It’ll be interesting to see how Johnson will do in his transition, but his remarkable career in NASCAR alone is enough to keep an eye on him for this race.

Josef Newgarden

The two-time IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden has looked extremely good in the preseason test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he posted the quickest overall time. The 30-year-old came up just short of a second straight title in 2020, and while it remains to be seen how well he will do in 2021, he definitely looks set to make some noise in Alabama.

Newgarden has already won this race in 2018, 2017, and 2015 and has also locked in a podium finish in 2016 (3rd). His worst finish since 2014 (8th) came in 2019 when Newgarden has to settle for fourth; however, that doesn’t take away from the fact that he is still one of the most successful drivers on this track across the last five years.

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