Alabama Grand Prix confirmed fresh faces are here to stay

Nick Laham

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- This weekend's festivities at Barber Motorsports Park felt like a real changing of the guard moment for the IndyCar Series. The balance of power throughout the field has really shifted over the past year and Sunday's Grand Prix was one of the most indicative examples of that shift.

The long-standing reality of IndyCar racing was that the path to victory lane and the season championship went through Team Penske or Target Chip Ganassi. After all, how many times have you read about the dominance of the so-called red cars -- even after half of them (Penske) no longer feature red anymore.

Just as sure as red is no longer a major color on those cars, Penske appears to be losing ground on their fellow Chevrolet mates at Andretti Autosport. Sure Helio Castroneves is off to a fast start and leads the championship standings but he hasn't legitimately contended since 2008. And teammate Will Power has arguably choked three-straight championships away and hasn't won a race in nearly a calendar year.

Something just appears off at Penske, and it may begin to eclipse their window to win a championship over the next few years.

Meanwhile, Target Chip Ganassi appears a little underwhelming too. Scott Dixon finished second at Alabama and is second is the standings but his teammate, Dario Franchitti is dead last in the championship and Ganassi himself has been critical of Honda's performance in the early going.

Capitalizing on the new car and schedule has been Andretti Autosport, who won the 2012 championship with Ryan Hunter-Reay and has maintained that momentum in winning the first two races of 2013 with James Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay. Possessing both the talent to win multiple races and their North American heritage, you can't help but feel as though these two represent the changing times from the status quo.

The paradigm shift doesn't end with Andretti either.

Indy Lights graduate Tristan Vautier has made an immediate impact on the Series, making the Firestone Fast Six in both of his qualifying attempts and backing it up with equally impressive races (the results will come). Simona de Silvestro is another example, finally free from her Lotus shackles and competing for podiums in both races to open the season.

The 2013 season just feels fresh and after a long offseason full of political strife and infighting, it's just been nice to see so many fresh faces and engaging personalities take the spotlight while some of the traditional powers struggle.

If the new guard can maintain their performance once Ganassi and Penske get back on track, the IndyCar Series just might have a winning formula to continue growing the sport.

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