Skip to content

After botched pass attempt, is it worth asking if Long Beach gets to Ryan Hunter-Reay?

Apr 14, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

RHR AP

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.

Latest Posts
  1. IndyCar working to reduce hand/wrist injuries among drivers

    Jul 28, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    Firestone 600 - Practice Getty Images

    Among the possible options: A new steering damper, a thumb/wrist brace adapted from motocross, and energy-absorbing material for steering wheels.

  2. NASCAR AMERICA: Monday Round-Up (VIDEO)

    Jul 28, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    NASCAR America

    Jeff Gordon reflects on fifth Brickyard victory; Joe Gibbs Racing starting to peak; the impact of Carl Edwards’ exit from Roush Fenway Racing.

  3. Everything you need to know for Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono

    Jul 28, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    HarvickPocono1 Getty Images

    All the notes and numbers to keep in mind as the Sprint Cup Series makes its second visit to Pocono.

  4. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA recaps Brickyard at 5 p.m. ET

    Jul 28, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    NASCAR America

    Coming up today: Highlights from Jeff Gordon’s fifth win at Indy; Carl Edwards on his upcoming exit from Roush Fenway Racing; Kasey Kahne’s missed opportunity.

  5. NASCAR AMERICA Minute: The legacy of Jeff Gordon (VIDEO)

    Jul 28, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Cheez-It 355 - Practice Getty Images

    The NASCAR AMERICA crew talks about Gordon’s history of success at Indianapolis and throughout his NASCAR career.

  6. Petty, Childress, JTG, Furniture Row teams testing at Watkins Glen

    Jul 28, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT

    Cheez-It 355 at The Glen Getty Images

    Chase hopefuls target the Glen’s road course event on Aug. 10 as a chance to get into the post-season.

  7. Team planes for Stewart-Haas, JGR collide at North Carolina airport

    Jul 28, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    Credit: @Jesse_Sanders_ Credit: @Jesse_Sanders_

    No one was injured Sunday night when a Joe Gibbs Racing plane clipped a parked Stewart-Haas Racing plane while returning home from the Brickyard 400.

  8. Team Penske trio has mixed fortunes in Brickyard 400

    Jul 28, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 Getty Images

    Joey Logano finishes fifth, while Brad Keselowski (12th) and IndyCar’s Juan Pablo Montoya (23rd) falter after starting toward the front of the grid.

  9. IndyCar: Winning’s been a curse, not a blessing, over last six races

    Jul 28, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    TORTrafficJam Getty Images

    The winners of the last six IndyCar races haven’t had much in the way of results in subsequent races.

  10. Jeff Gordon talks Brickyard 400 victory on The Dan Patrick Show (VIDEO)

    Jul 28, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Federated Auto Parts 400 Getty Images

    The five-time Brickyard winner discusses his big win and other topics, including whether he’d allow his young daughter to become a NASCAR driver.

  11. IMSA: Indianapolis thoughts and observations

    Jul 28, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    IMSAatIMS Getty Images

    Two drivers from the 1995 Indianapolis 500 finish 1-2 in the 2014 Brickyard Grand Prix, while the race features a star turn from somebody born in 1995…

  12. Sauber close, but no cigar in terms of first 2014 points in Hungary

    Jul 28, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT

    SutilHUN Getty Images

    Both Adrian Sutil, Esteban Gutierrez run top-10 in Hungary, and both fail to get Sauber on the scoreboard.

  13. NHRA: Courtney Force becomes winningest female in Funny Car with Sonoma win

    Jul 28, 2014, 10:27 AM EDT

    ForcesSonoma AP

    Courtney Force beats father John in final for record-setting NHRA Funny Car win in Sonoma.

  14. No one deserved to lose the 2014 Hungarian GP

    Jul 28, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    HUNPodium AP

    Despite the facial expressions of those second and third to Daniel Ricciardo on Sunday, each of the top three would have deserved the Hungarian GP win.

  15. Clint Bowyer fails to realize IndyCar doesn’t have push-to-pass on ovals

    Jul 28, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    BowyerIndy Getty Images

    IndyCars have push-to-pass, but not on ovals. It’s all good, Clint.

  16. Hulkenberg apologizes after hitting teammate

    Jul 28, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Nico Hulkenberg AP

    German driver retires for the first time in 2014 after hitting Sergio Perez during the Hungarian Grand Prix.

  17. NASCAR: Is Edwards a lame duck or could he still bag 2014 title?

    Jul 28, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    EdwardsRoush AP

    The mindset of Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team will be key down the stretch, knowing they’re heading their separate ways at the end of the year.

  18. Kimi Raikkonen confident of improvements at Ferrari

    Jul 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary Getty Images

    Finn underlines his belief in the team to turn things around in 2014.

  19. McLaren gamble backfires for Button and Magnussen

    Jul 28, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

    Hungary F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Decision to fit wet weather tires in anticipation of more rain scuppers hopes of big points in Hungary.

  20. Gordon’s Brickyard legacy superb, but can’t be compared to other Indy legends

    Jul 27, 2014, 7:52 PM EDT

    Jeff Gordon AP

    A world of differences make it impossible to weigh Jeff Gordon’s accomplishments at Indy against those of A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr., and Michael Schumacher.

Today on NASCAR AMERICA

More from NASCAR America

Jeff Gordon's historic Brickyard 400 win

Featured video

Inside the Hungarian GP
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches