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LOCKS, DROPS AND SLEEPERS FOR BARBER…
BEFORE EACH WEEK RACE WEEKEND, INDYCAR NATION WRITERS WILL SHARE THEIR BRILLIANT ADVICE ON WHO TO PICK AND WHO TO DITCH.
LOCK: Helio Castroneves, Team Penske
Helio had an incident last week, but consider this…since the IRL/CCWS merger, only once has he failed to place in the Top 10 in back-to-back races. He won at the inaugural Barber race last year, and should come back strong with a chance to repeat.
DROP: EJ Viso, KV Racing
This one is a no-brainer. Viso crashed in his first three practice sessions of the year and spun his car during the St. Pete race. Viso can be fast, but until he cuts down on the miscues, you don't want to use him as a dark horse pick to stretch your roster. Sure, he's got speed, but why risk it?
SLEEPER: Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport
Marco might not be a popular pick in a lot of leagues after his second consecutive season-opener with a mishap. But he raced to an extremely strong Top 5 finish in Barber last year, leading most of the race. He probably would have won except for a fuel strategy error. Barber was one of his best finishes of 2010, so don't hold off utilizing him.
ZACH HOUGHTON- IndyCarAdvocate.com Blogger/suburb dweller/underdog supporter/@indycaradvocate
First off, I owe a big apology to everyone after the St. Pete round. Even though my "lock" in Will Power panned out well, my "sleeper" in Marco Andretti ended up on his lid after the first turn, a victim of chaos on the start. And, my "drop" in Simona de Silvestro did so bad that she finished fourth and was the feel-good story of the weekend, along with Tony Kanaan. Oops, my mistake. I apologize.
Anyway, on to Barber this weekend.
LOCK: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport
Ryan Hunter-Reay has quietly become one of the best road racers around. If not for bad luck, he could regularly run up front, trading punches with the Penske and Ganassi drivers. Though St. Pete saw him drop out because of suspension damage, he was running fourth at the time and was strong all weekend. If you're looking for a non-Penske/Ganassi driver to perform well this weekend, Hunter-Reay may be your guy.
DROP: J.R. Hildebrand, Panther Racing
J.R. Hildebrand benefited from all the carnage last weekend and ran in the top 10 for much of the race before slipping to 11th at the very end. Improved optimism after a successful test at Barber this past week suggests that more of the same could be in store this weekend. But, be wary. Hildebrand is a rookie and Panther's strengths are the ovals, not road courses. Even though we would all like the see young American succeed, it may take a while. Don't be too quick to put him in your lineup this week.
SLEEPER: Takuma Sato, KV Racing
Did anyone notice that Takuma Sato finished fifth last week? Through everything that happened, this story was lost. Given the challenge that was 2010, starting 2011 with a top five is a great result for the Japanese driver. If he can keep that up consistently, he'll become a true player. Watch out for him this weekend.
KYLE LAVIGNE- East Coast Contributor/Motorsports Guru/Writer Extraordinaire
LOCK: Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport
Oh, how close he was last season at Barber. Fortunately, he'll be quite motivated to finish the job this year after getting put on his head for the second straight season-opener in a row. It's high time that the son of Michael and grandson of Mario gets a victory to silence the critics -- a group that seems to have grown over the years as his Sonoma win in 2006 has never been followed up with another one.
DROP: Vitor Meira, A.J. Foyt Racing
You won't find many people hatin' on this guy. And if there's any justice in this world, he'll taste victory one day in the IZOD IndyCar Series before he hangs up the helmet. But Sunday won't be that day. Meira was toward the back of the pack on the time charts during the Open Test at Barber and that doesn't make me too confident in his chances. That being said, how many of us expected him to podium at the season-opener in Sao Paulo last year? He certainly knows how to spring a surprise.
SLEEPER: Tony Kanaan, KV Racing
When's the last time this team has had this much momentum going into a race? I'd have to think it's been a while. Kanaan and Takuma Sato's efforts at St. Pete gave KV-Lotus a much-needed boost of confidence and I expect TK to keep it up this week.
CHRIS ESTRADA- FoxSports.com Guy/IndyRacingRevolution.com Blogger/employee of baseball/@estradawrites
My St. Pete picks actually managed to pan out...so I'm sure I'll bomb at Barber! But here's hopin... :)
LOCK: Helio Castroneves, Team Penske
He won here last year. He was the fastest in testing a couple weeks ago. And yet still, I feel like I’m gambling with an underdog. Not that I have anything against Will Power- he’s an amazing talent and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he took the W on Sunday. But he seems like the obvious pick.
DROP: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport
I hate to pick on the Andretti teammates two weeks in a row, but I just don’t see Ryan faring well at Barber. He was disappointed with his results at testing and he’s been very vocal about his dislike for the restarts. Not that I blame him (he definitely got the short end of the stick in the restart at St. Pete), but I think that his resistance towards them will hinder his performance at Barber.
SLEEPER: Simona de Silvestro, HVM Racing
After her performance at St. Pete, this is a no brainer! She’s definitely one to keep an eye on all season. She obviously knows how to handle the road courses and kept her nose clean on the side-by-side restarts. Barber seems just the place for her to prove that she’s a legitimate contender.
KRISTIN SLEVIN- BSU Student/USAC Insider/INDYCAR Nation Juggernaut of Joy/@kristinmarie935