Apr 14, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Leaving the track last night after the Verizon IndyCar Series’ second race of the 2014 season, it hit me – Ryan Hunter-Reay’s passing attempt on Josef Newgarden Sunday wasn’t just a typical passing attempt.
It was part of a pattern that sees one of the series’ most complete drivers opt to make, to me at least, an out-of-body type decision when it comes to this race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Many regard Will Power as the out-and-out fastest driver and Scott Dixon as the most complete driver in the field, but it’s hard not to include the 2012 series champion in the discussion for either of those two categories.
When it comes to Long Beach in particular, move RHR ahead of Dixon and infinitesimally close to Power in that Q rating. On the streets of Southern California, since he switched to Andretti Autosport, Hunter-Reay always enters as one of the favorites.
The record in the last four years at Long Beach prior to Sunday: started second, and won in 2010. In 2011: started second, retired (P23) due to a gearbox issue. 2012: started 13th (qualified third but had a 10-spot grid penalty for an engine change) and ended sixth (time penalty added for avoidable contact with Takuma Sato after ending third on the road). Last year: started second, retired (P24) due to contact and a rare unforced error.
The 2010 win though was a career-defining moment for RHR. He’d been through a seriously rough stretch throughout 2009, needing to complete two last-minute deals just to race and on a personal note, losing his mom due to colon cancer. It was a win that helped solidify his future at Andretti Autosport, with the win turning a six-race deal into a full-season one.
Yet on-track, in this race since that 2010 win, I’ve seen a burning desire from RHR more than at almost any other track – save for maybe Milwaukee, where he’s won the last two years – to not only be the best, but possibly attempt things outside his comfort zone.
And that occasionally leads to trouble. Unnecessary trouble, at that.
Take the 2012 incident between he and Sato, for instance. It was the last lap, in a battle for third, where Hunter-Reay charged down the inside of the left-handed Turn 6 and made contact with the-then Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver. There wasn’t much room for the maneuver, as Sato left enough room but not enough for a reasonable side-by-side attempt to where RHR could successfully pass.
That’s the art of defensive driving; if RHR backs off there, he gets fourth place points and a reasonable chunk to take into the next race. Instead, he went for it, made contact, and got docked several positions. Ultimately it was a net 7 point loss, but considering Hunter-Reay only won the 2012 title by 3 points, those were crucial.
Last year, he came into Long Beach as defending series champion. But in the race, trying to extend the gap, he over-stepped his boundaries and made a mistake when he nosed into the Turn 8 wall. He owned it, though, and that was a good sign.
Flash back now to yesterday. Hunter-Reay dominates most of the first half from pole, and pretty much would have the race in the bag after the second round of pit stops. He approaches Newgarden entering Turn 4; at best, an overtake will only happen if it’s a leader approaching lapped traffic, not an actual lead pass attempt.
RHR had options. He could have held back and opted to wait until either of Turn 6, where his move on Sato failed to work two years earlier; Turn 8, where he made the unforced error in 2013; or Turn 9, the second consecutive 90-degree right hander at the end of the Seaside Way back straight where passing frequently occurs.
In any of those three spots, Newgarden’s cold tires would still not have been completely up to temperature, and Hunter-Reay could have afforded a simple, standard type maneuver with likely, no consequences. And the race lead.
Instead, he opted to channel his Ayrton Senna and go for a gap that he thought existed – even though it was pretty much Newgarden’s corner – and admitted as much in his post-race interview.
The end result was a completely unnecessary accident that took him and his teammate out and pissed off his team boss and race strategist. It ended the races of the guy whose team had beat the Andretti squad on pit stops thanks to pitting a lap later, and a handful of others who had nowhere to go in the fracas.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is a champion, a gentleman, a philanthropist and one of IndyCar’s all-around best drivers. But that doesn’t provide him an out-clause after making one of the least champion-worthy moves I’ve seen in a long time.
And maybe because it occurred at Long Beach, it was destined to occur anyway.
Oct 20, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Six different teams are represented among the eight remaining Chasers, and NASCAR’s post-season is starting to resemble another familiar tournament. NASCAR AMERICA’s Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton discuss.
Oct 20, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT
Newman, one of the “Eliminator 8,” may be penalized tomorrow by NASCAR after his car was found to be too low following Sunday’s race at Talladega. Nate Ryan has more on the situation.
Oct 20, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Notes and numbers to keep in mind as the 8 remaining Chasers prepare to begin the Eliminator Round.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Recapping Talladega on NASCAR AMERICA.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:01 PM EDT
A great post-season for Busch was erased by a mid-race crash on Sunday at Talladega, but crew chief Dave Rogers says there’s no point in blaming the rules of the new Chase.
Oct 20, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
Miami Formula E circuit revealed.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Prepare to have this track bouncing in your head all day.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
What to know heading into the next round of NASCAR’s Chase.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
They say they always do things bigger in Texas, and that phrase would perfectly describe legendary former drag racer and NASCAR team owner Raymond Beadle.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
Coby finishes 17th in the season finale at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway, but earns the 2014 series title by 22 points over race winner Ryan Preece.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Turner on the move to PWC from IMSA.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Beadle helped bring the “Blue Max” brand to prominence in drag racing, and guided NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace to his lone Winston Cup title.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
DTM champion will test for Toro Rosso.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Both of Team Penske’s drivers advance to Eliminator round of Chase, which saves the ignominy of one of the winningest drivers this year going home.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
The organization says it will make a full presentation on its findings during the next World Motor Sport Council meeting in December.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Love him or loathe him, Keselowski deserves respect for coming through in the clutch like he did on Sunday.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
After Cassill, Kvapil’s sixth leads a quartet of more surprise drivers in top-20 Sunday at Talladega.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Ricciardo comes to the U.S. early for Supercross.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
A potential nightmare situation for Sprint Cup’s new Chase still exists, in the form of two as-yet winless drivers still battling for a title in 2014.
Oct 20, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Career day for Landon Cassill ends not only with his first Cup top-five, but first top-10.
Video from NASCAR America
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- Weekend wrap: Brad Keselowski rises up to Talladega challenge 0
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- Roger Penske defends Keselowski, says other drivers “jealous” of his success 3
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- Brad Keselowski wins at Talladega on 2nd G-W-C attempt, advances in Chase 10