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.
Jul 26, 2014, 1:14 AM EDT
BROWNSBURG, Ind. – In an exciting finish that featured plenty of beating and banging, Kyle Busch waited until the final turn of the final lap to get by John Hunter Nemechek and win Friday night’s ARCA CRA Super Series Circle City 100 late-model event at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Action Express wins Indy; RSR, Viper and Ferrari the other TUDOR Championship class winners.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
After Tanner Foust emerged as the victor of a riotous final in New York, the beat goes on for Red Bull GRC this weekend with a trip to The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
On Friday’s edition, the NASCAR America crew discussed the favorites for Sunday’s Brickyard 400. And not surprisingly, Jimmie Johnson is the easy pick — but there are a few other drivers who could contend.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:26 PM EDT
On Friday’s edition of NASCAR America, Sam Hornish Jr. joined Leigh Diffey to discuss Jimmie Johnson’s quest for his fifth Brickyard 400 win. Hornish noted that Johnson’s first win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a positive turning point for his team.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
On Friday’s NASCAR America, Clint Bowyer talked about handling Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s 21st annual Brickyard 400, as well as his teams’ improvement and his hopes of getting into and winning the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
After a long day of testing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Penske Racing teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power went to see a movie Wednesday in Mansfield, Ohio. Check out Montoya’s hilarious tale about what they saw.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
“Every day I wake up and I’m like, ‘Yes, let’s do it again.’ Then there are thoughts of ‘I finished sixth, that’s pretty special.’ I don’t know if I could achieve that result again.” – Outlaw
Jul 25, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – Juan Pablo Montoya has twice come close to winning the Brickyard 400, only to suffer maladies that kept him from kissing the finish line bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in celebration.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:31 PM EDT
The former Sprint Cup champion steps behind the counter and serves up cold ones…Of truth.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:58 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone seems to be concerned Matt Kenseth hasn’t won a race thus far in 2014 – everyone, that is, except Kenseth himself.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT
The four-time Brickyard 400 champion says he had to go against his “natural tendencies” as a driver in order to become as successful as he has been at Indy.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
All of the latest news and analysis from the paddock at the Hungaroring.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Red Bull leading the race for the podium in Hungary, but Ricciardo still has some concerns.
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 pm ET — Hornish on nuances of Indy, JJ and Bowyer, Indiana racing history
Jul 25, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT
On Friday’s edition of NASCAR America, Leigh Diffey will again be joined in-studio by 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2014 Nationwide Series Iowa winner Sam Hornish Jr.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
P1 and P2 in both practice sessions, but not 100% where they want to be.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT
Defending Brickyard 400 winner would push for mid-week races if he were in charge of creating the Sprint Cup schedule.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Kenseth took the first step towards his first win of 2014 – and his first career win in the Brickyard 400 – recording the fastest speed in Friday’s sole Sprint Cup practice session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Brembo and Mercedes release a joint statement concerning the incident during qualifying for the German Grand Prix.
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