BIRMINGHAM, Ala. | Andretti Autosport remained perfect on the year Sunday when defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay snapped Penske Racing's winning streak at Barber Motorsports Park.
Hunter-Reay proved to be a credible threat for the victory when he beat both Will Power and Helio Castroneves for the pole. The Penske drivers had swept every pole and all three races in IndyCar's previous visits to the Alabama road course.
Hunter-Reay then ran a steady race, and held strong in one intense battle for position with both Penske drivers, to claim his first win of the season. Then he had to hold off Scott Dixon, who finished second for the fourth consecutive year.
"I was dragging my tail off trying to hold off Dixon," Hunter-Reay said.
Castroneves was third to take over the IndyCar points lead, and Charlie Kimball, Dixon's teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, was a career-best fourth. Power was fifth.
AJ Allmendinger ran seventh for most of his IndyCar debut but finished 19th after stalling his car during his final pit stop. But he was praised repeatedly by team owner Roger Penske, even after the mistake in the pits.
"Finish this and just learn, learn, learn. You are doing fine," Penske radioed Allmendinger.
It was a huge turnaround for Hunter-Reay, whose previous best finish at Barber was 12th and he opened the season with an 18th-place finish at St. Pete in a race plagued by mechanical problems. But he left with his 10th career victory, and put the No. 1 car into Victory Lane at an IndyCar race for the first time since Sebastien Bourdais won at Mexico City in 2007.
It left team owner Michael Andretti beaming after two IndyCar wins to open the season, and Carlos Munoz's victory earlier Sunday in the Indy Lights race.
"It was great to get that win with Carlos this morning and for Ryan to come back, they did a great job with strategy," Andretti said. "Just a perfect weekend, when you start on the pole and lead almost all the laps, it's just how to do it."
It wasn't all roses for Andretti, though: James Hinchcliffe, winner of the season-opener at St. Pete for Andretti, never got a chance to contend for a second consecutive victory.
A poor qualifying result put him at the back of the field at the start, where he was stuck in heavy traffic when the green flag waved. As cars jockeyed for position on the first lap, Graham Rahal and Oriol Servia made contact that collected Hinchcliffe and damaged his car. It left him with what he believed to be a tire issue, but the caution period wasn't long enough for IndyCar officials to tow him back to pit lane.
So Hinchcliffe's disabled vehicle sat broken down on the course as the race went on around him. His Andretti Autosport team was powerless to do anything except wait for another caution flag to get Hinchcliffe towed back to them so they could attempt a repair.
They never got another yellow flag, and Hinchcliffe was stuck the entire race sitting inside his idling car. When it became clear his day was over with roughly 20 laps remaining, he stood up in the cockpit and did an exaggerated stretch that showed some humor in what was clearly a frustrating afternoon — he ran just three laps and left Alabama with a last-place finish.
Also frustrated was Dario Franchitti after a second consecutive disastrous race for the four-time series champion. Franchitti went to pit lane 41 laps into the race with an electrical issue after driving from the back of the field into the top-10.
He wound up 25th and is last in the IndyCar Series standings. Through two races, Franchitti is easily off to the worst start of his career; he wrecked early in the season-opener to leave St. Pete last in points for the first time in IndyCar. Franchitti's previous worst start was 2005 when an engine failure in the opener at Homestead caused him to leave the race ranked 18th in the standings.
"A podium was definitely possible. We were going forward, passing cars and I thought to myself the Target car was quick," Franchitti said.