With the presence of double points, doubleheader weekends and wild card races in the Verizon IndyCar Series, no points lead is safe until the final checkered flag in September.
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay has made the most of those scenarios, starting with the Indianapolis 500 and ending with last weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America.
It was after a disappointing 18th place finish that Hunter-Reay watched his points standing tumble to a season-worst 9th place. Heading into the Indy 500, the 2014 race winner and 2012 series champion remained calm and realized there were enough opportunities ahead to overcome a less-than-stellar start.
Methodically, the Florida resident worked his way forward from a 14th place grid position to pick up a hard-earned top five. Despite the fine finish, the fire burned a bit deeper for Hunter-Reay as the Honda driver yearned for more – a good sign of things to come.
“We really fought hard, but we just didn’t have the speed in the end,” Hunter-Reay remarked. “But the bigger problem was the lapped traffic. We really had a good race car until we had to deal with guys that were doing 200 mph out there, like Jay Howard. Then (Zach Claman De Melo) came out right at the end in the mix of the top five – I don’t know what teams were thinking. The DHL boys did a great job today, just a little bit too short at the end.”
Utilizing a doubleheader weekend in Detroit to supercharge his campaign, Hunter-Reay surged to 4th in points following a runner-up finish on Saturday and a breakthrough victory on Sunday. It was his first victory since the summer of 2015.
“That was going to be a heck of a fight at the end, but good thing we pressured him (Alexander Rossi) into (a mistake) and we’re here in victory lane,” said Hunter-Reay after the race. “It’s awesome – this car deserves to be where it is right now. That was a heck of a car, heck of a strategy, great in the pit lane and I drove my rear end off.”
While it is tough enough to survive the race that follows Detroit on the calendar – the shootout at Texas Motor Speedway – it is even harder to secure a solid result.
Dodging crashes from championship contenders Robert Wickens and Will Power, Hunter-Reay was part of a strong Honda brigade in the top-10 as he brought the No. 28 DHL machine home 5th.
Fast forward to last weekend’s race at Road America, and Hunter-Reay was the best driver at the track not named Newgarden. After starting 3rd, Hunter-Reay ran an incredibly consistent race at the 4-plus mile road course – and was rewarded for it.
The 37-year-old finished runner-up despite not leading a lap, vaulting himself from 4th to 2nd in the championship standings.
Additionally, the second place finish continues an incredible stretch for the 2012 series champion. Hunter-Reay has secured five consecutive top-five finishes – a feat only matched by the points leader Scott Dixon – and has an astounding average finish of 3.0 in the last month.
This weekend the Verizon IndyCar Series travels to Iowa Speedway, a bullring on the series calendar at just 0.875 miles in length. A three-time winner at the track, Hunter-Reay is ready to pounce on the opportunity.
From 2012 to 2015, the Andretti Autosport driver won the race three times out of four and finished runner-up in the only race he didn’t win (2013).
If you remove two DNFs from his record (one from a crash and one from an engine failure), Hunter-Reay boasts a stout average finish of 4.0.
“Iowa Speedway is certainly a special place for me and the team as a whole,” said Hunter-Reay this week. “I love short oval racing, but Iowa is one of my favorites. We’ve had lots of success here in the past, winning three times, however with a new car and a completely different aero package we have our work cut out for us to develop a new setup that will suit this car.
“We’re coming off a productive test, so we’re looking to keep the momentum we have rolling into the Iowa Corn 300 weekend and bring home another good result for the DHL Honda.”
The 300-lap race from Iowa Speedway will go green on Sunday, July 8 at 2:40 p.m. Eastern time. The race will be broadcast live on NBCSN and through the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Header image courtesy of Zach Wenzel.