Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

RYAN HUNTER-REAY/No.28 Andretti Autosport Honda ultimately won a nail-biting finish to the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 Race Sunday, after playing leap-frog with HELIO CASTRONEVES/No.3 Team Penske Chevrolet and and his Andretti teammate/owner’s son, MARCO ANDRETTI. In the end, RHR prevailed, with Castroneves second and Andretti third. The Margin of victory was 0.0600 seconds, the second-closest finish in Indy 500 finish. Hunter-Reay, who charged up from his nineteenth grid position, was the first American to win since 2006. The crowd went wild. And Castroneves was deep with despair.

Hunter-Reay said “I can’t believe it. I’m a proud American boy, for sure. I’ve got the best team behind me. We did everything right today. I’ve watched the race since I was a little kid. It’s an American tradition.” It was his thirteenth IndyCar victory, continuing his title of being the winningest active American driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Helio Castroneves
Helio Castroneves

Castroneves was most gracious in conceding the victory to Hunter-Reay. The three-time Indy 500 winner spent a long time head bowed in the cockpit of the car after the race, which he described later as “collecting my thoughts.” He led five times for 38 laps

“It was a great fight, and I was having a great time. Unfortunately second isn’t winning. (Second sucks) It was great to see an American winning and I really mean that” I was trying everything I had. Both of us used every inch of the track. Normally we don’t do such things at 220 mph. It was a very good race.”

The lead changes kept coming one after another in the final 15 laps, in what was one of the wildest finishes, keeping up the tradition of exciting Indy 500 finishes. This was the first green flag finish in the last five races. RHR led nine times for a race high of 56 laps, out of 179 green flag laps. There were 35 lead changes among 11 drivers.

Five cautions took 21 laps out of the race, with four of the five cautions being for contact.

Behind Castroneves, the finishers were RHR’s Andretti Autosport teammates: CARLOS MUNOZ in P4 and Rookie KURT BUSCH, who finished sixth in his first ever open wheel race. Busch was Doing the Double, and equalled the previous best finish by a Double driver – sixth, by his team owner, TONY STEWART.

Finishing fifth was JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Seventh through tenth were SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS/No.11 KVSH Chevrolet, WILL POWER/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Rookie SAGE KARAM/No.22 Dreyer & Reinbold -Kingdom Racing w/CGR Honda, and J.R.Hildebrand/No.21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.

Michael Andretti

This was the third Indy 500 win for Team Owner, MICHAEL ANDRETTI said “It was a weird feeling having one driver win and my son not win. I woulda have loved to see him up there.”

Busch had the best Rookie finish. He had to leave for Charlotte Motor Speedway soon after the Indy 500 race to race another 600 miles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race. Busch was followed by the few chosen journalists in the private jet provided by Stewart. After the Indy 500, the Andretti team has to tear down Busch’s Indy 500 car and convert it back to a road course car for Marco Andretti in Detroit next weekend.

Included in the last pulse-raising period were two crashes causing one caution and a Red Flag for all the debris on track caused by TOWNSEND BELL/No.6 KV Racing Technology hitting the Turn Two wall. Ironically that crash caution cum Red Flag came on the heels of IndyCar calling for a Turn Two debris caution. During the Red Flag the SAFER Barrier had to be repaired. Two laps under the Pace Car and then the field was let loose with a Green on Lap 195.

IndyCar Race Director BEAUX BARFIELD seemed to be universally praised for calling for the Red Flag so the race could end under green. The fans wildly applauded when the flag was seen.

The race was noted for the longest caution-free stint – the first 149 laps. Then CHARLIE KIMBALL/No.83 Chip Ganassi Racing spun and hit the Turn Two wall. Records don’t go back past 1976, but the previous longest stint was last year, 113 laps between Lap 61 and Lap 193.

The next crash involved SCOTT DIXON/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and JOSEF NEWGARDEN/No.67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda in Turn Four. Then on Lap 176 came JAMES HINCHCLIFFE/No.27 Andretti Autosport Honda and ED CARPENTER/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, who were both going for second place. They were three wide into Turn One, with TOWNSEND BELL/No.6 KVRT Chevrolet, who gained second position after that hit, but not for long. Bell, who had started twenty-fifth, hit the wall on Lap 192 bringing out the Red Flag.

Some said they’ve never seen such a calm Carpenter be so mad. “Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) tried to make three wide in turn one with 25 laps to go. Not a smart move. It wrecked both of our races. I told him if he didn’t have a concussion last week that I would have punched in the face. It wasn’t a green-white-checkered situation. Of all of the guys out there, I wouldn’t have thought it would be Hinch. I am pretty good friends with him and those guys at Andretti. I think he just didn’t use his head right then.”

At the half-way mark, a new Indy 500 record was set for average race speed of 211.871 mph, breaking A.J.ALLMENDINGER’s record of 177.687 mph set last year.

Bell, Carpenter, Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Kimball and Newgarden were all checked at infield Medical Center and cleared to drive.

Sage Karam
Sage Karam. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Karam started thirty-first and didn’t look back. He ran as high as P8 before finishing ninth. The teen missed his Senior Prom, but he has much more to brag about when he returns next week for his high school graduation. “150 laps straight of green-flag racing takes a toll on you. My foot even hurts from the vibrations of keeping it flat for so long. Now I know why they say this is the hardest race to win in the world.”

Twenty drivers finished on the lead lap, with five others two to twenty-seven laps down at the checkered flag.

Six drivers crashed out and two drivers retired with mechanical issues: Last placed starter, veteran BUDDY LAZIER/No.98 Lazier Partners Racing Chevrolet was the first DNF, with mechanical problems after 35 laps; and a really disappointed GRAHAM RAHAL/No.15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda retired with electrical problems after 44 laps.

The unofficial standings after five races are: Hunter-Reay-274 points; Power-224; Castroneves-220; SIMON PAGENAUD-211; Andretti-192; Rookie Munoz-160; Montoya-151; Bourdais-143; Dixon-132; and JUSTIN WILSON-125.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The next IndyCar race is the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit 31 May and 1 June 2014.