With 500 Win In Hand, Hunter-Reay Bags The Swag

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 27 2014

2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay collected the spoils on Monday night. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS – Disneyland is not on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule this season. So at the end of what figures to be the busiest week of his racing life, Ryan Hunter-Reay has booked the next-best-thing.

“I just won the Indy 500 – and I’m going to Detroit!” Hunter-Reay declared after accepting a $2,491,194 check for winning the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. “This is a kid’s dream come true. I’m so proud to be up here.”

Hunter-Reay’s payday from a purse of $14,231,760 topped a massive haul of swag for himself and Andretti Autosport team-owner Michael Andretti, as the field of 33 was honored – and paid – during the annual Victory Awards Celebration at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Monday night.

In addition to celebrating his third Indy 500 win as car-owner, Andretti also shared in NASCAR star Kurt Busch’s selection as Sunoco Rookie of the Year. But clearly, the spotlight belonged to RHR.

“I still feel like I’m living in a dream, I really do. That sounds cliché, but I feel like I’m actually still in a bit of haze,” said Hunter-Reay, who edged Helio Castroneves of Team Penske by 0.0600-seconds _ the second-closest finish in race history. The closest margin belongs to Al Unser Jr., who edged Scott Goodyear by 0.043-seconds in 1992.

“That’s what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will do to you,” Hunter-Reay said.”This facility and this event is bigger than motorsports. It’s bigger than sports. It’s our country’s tradition and there’s an energy about it that takes you from the moment you come in here for practice. It’s like no other racetrack; it’s like no other place I’ve been in my whole life.”

In addition to his winner’s check, Hunter-Reay received the race’s checkered flag, signed by his competitors; an Indy 500 champion’s ring and the keys to the black 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 convertible Pace Car.

A 33-year-old resident of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Hunter-Reay is the first American to win “The Greatest

The winning Andretti Autosport team members got their moment in the spotlight.

Spectacle in Racing” since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. That figures to be a key topic of conversation during the numerous appearances scheduled for RHR leading up to this weekend’s doubleheader at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. The series will return to a street circuit for Rounds 6 and 7 of the schedule on Saturday and Sunday. Both points-paying events will be televised by ABC at 3:30 p.m. (EDT).

Hunter-Reay’s media tour also includes a stop in Fort Worth on Wednesday afternoon to promote the Firestone 600 night race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, June 7.

“I’ve got to touch on the American side of it because you know I’m a pretty patriotic dude,” Hunter-Reay said. “I grew up as a fan of this sport, a kid watching the American legends – Mario and Michael, the Andrettis, watching the Unsers (Al, Bobby and Al Jr.), A.J. Foyt and Bobby Rahal fight it out at this great speedway. That’s what I always wanted to be. And to finally be standing here in front of this trophy with this great team knowing that we just won the greatest race in the world, it is a dream come true in every sense of the term.”

Driver of the No. 28 DHL Dallara/Honda, Hunter-Reay led a race-high 56 of 200 laps while averaging 186.563 mph. Andretti Autosport placed four of its five drivers in the top-six finishing positions – Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti (third), Carlos Munoz (fourth) and Busch (sixth).

Michael Andretti, son of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario, failed to win here in 16 attempts. But Mikey added Hunter-Reay’s win to those scored by the late Dan Wheldon (2005) and Dario Franchitti (2007).

Andretti also joined the chorus of drivers thanking the Hulman-George family for a revamped Month of May schedule that included the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on a revised IMS road-course.

“This (the 500) is the greatest event in the world and we are so proud to be a part of it and we thank you for it,” Andretti said. “And we love the changes that are coming. I mean, we can feel it. We’re back. INDYCAR’s back. I’m very excited about it. I’m very happy with the direction we’re going and we only have great things ahead of us, for all of us, I think.

“Ryan – helluva job. You drove like a champion all day. You made the right move. That move on the back straightaway (on Lap 197) I think is one that changed everything. Great guy to have on our team. Love to have you as part of our family. Thank you very much for getting us this win.”

The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, Busch also became the fourth driver to compete in both the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., on the same day.

“To race with Andretti Autosport, all the teammates there, it was a pleasure,” said Busch, 35, the top-

Kurt Busch returned to Indy on Monday to attend the banquet.

finishing rookie in a class of seven. “My success is your success and it was a wonderful Month of May.”

Busch said his “Double Duty” of practice and qualifying here and at CMS was “a lot of hard work, it was a lot of fun. Just everybody here is like family. The Indiana natives make this racetrack what it is and I think the racetrack makes the people in Indiana what they are. It’s a very special race to be a part of.

“I guess the million-dollar question is will I be back? I’d love to be back. I had so much fun and the key to all of this was the blindfold, and they took it off right at the end of the race and I ended up sixth.”

Busch, who started 12th in his No. 26 Suretone Dallara/Honda, was presented a check for $423,889 including a $25,000 bonus from Sunoco. Busch also drew praise Hunter-Reay. “You’re a great addition this month, man,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar Series champion. “From the beginning you came in, worked with the team – it was fluid the way it all worked. You contributed, too, from the very beginning. You’re a champion and you’re a racer. You get it. You got in the car and you hustled it.

“Very good job on Sunday. That was trying conditions in the middle of that race. I thought, ‘This is pretty difficult to set-up some of these passes, a lot harder than last year.’ So hat’s off to you for even trying it, for coming out and making it happen. You’re a true racer. I would love an opportunity like that, but there needs to be more guys like you around.”

Hunter-Reay outdueled Castroneves during a six-lap shootout following a red flag stoppage, ultimately preventing the popular Brazilian from joining Foyt, Big Al Unser and Rick Mears as the event’s only four-time winners.

“I knew it was going to get crazy. I knew it was going to get wild,” said Hunter-Reay, referring to a sprint that included Castroneves and Marco Andretti. “We were all going for the win. I was racing two great drivers at the end and that’s when you get a really good show. We were inches apart at 230 mph; it was some of the most intense racing I’ve ever felt and it was on motorsports’ biggest stage, the Indy 500.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know it was the white flag lap because I was side-by-side (with Helio) and was so busy. I thought it was the white flag lap, I wasn’t sure. And then we came out of Turn 4, I saw the checkers, I saw (Castroneves’) yellow car coming up and I was thinking back to Marco and Hornish in 2006 and how close that was. I couldn’t imagine dealing with how close that finish was in ‘06.” Hornish, driving for team-owner Roger Penske, overtook rookie Andretti down the frontstretch to win by 0.0635-seconds.

“Helio, you did a great job,” Hunter-Reay said. “I think that’s one that will be replayed for many years and we’ll remember it as some great, close racing. I feel honored to be the guy taking home the trophy.”

The closing sequence saw Castroneves and RHR exchange the lead three times. “It was awesome,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Dallara/Chevrolet. ”For the first time actually I was a little jealous about Tony Kanaan’s nose (referring to the margin of victory).

“When he (RHR) passed me, I’m like I’ve still got time. Just keep cool, everything’s going to be all right. Going on the backstraight I’m kind of getting him on the target and once we come off Turn 4 I’m like…’I got it…I got it…I don’t think I got it. No, I can’t believe it!’ But it was so cool, man. It was a lot of fun. I think the biggest winner besides Ryan, obviously, was the fans. They had a great race. I had a great race. I want to thank the Lord for letting me live my dream every day. It’s always magic to come to this place.”

Castroneves earned $785,194 for the second Indy 500 runnerup finish of his career, matching his performance from 2003. “Ryan, man, that was fun,” Castroneves said. “Not funny at the end but it was really, really cool. Your name is going to change now for the Indy 500 champion. Welcome to the club.”

Pole-sitter Ed Carpenter, who led the race four times for 26 laps in his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara/Chevrolet, finished 27th after a crash with James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport ended his day on Lap 176. Carpenter received $463,694, including $100,000 for earning the Verizon P1 Award as pole-winner for the second consecutive year.

The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race Purse consists of IMS and Verizon IndyCar Series awards, plus other designated and special awards. The Victory Awards Celebration was presented by Ice Miller Legal Counsel, Contour Hardening, Inc. and Allied Solutions. The 99th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Sunday, May 24, 2015.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 27 2014
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