Apr 14, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
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.
Jan 26, 2015, 8:45 PM EST
NASCAR heavily is considering using the May 16 showcase as a trial run of the rules package for the 2016 season and has begun informing Sprint Cup teams of the possibility.
Jan 26, 2015, 8:33 PM EST
Quick recap for Day 1 of 3 in South Florida for the Indy Lights contingent.
Jan 26, 2015, 8:06 PM EST
Kyle Busch say that he doesn’t see Toyota partners Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing working closely together and that “we’re idiots” for not doing so.
Jan 26, 2015, 7:04 PM EST
Kyle Busch is not pleased with those who have confused him with his brother in reporting on Kurt Busch’s recent court matter.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:05 PM EST
Will its expansion help or hurt its hopes of a Sprint Cup title?
Jan 26, 2015, 4:54 PM EST
Which Joe Gibbs Racing driver will have the best season in 2015? Newcomer Carl Edwards, or Matt Kenseth, or JGR stalwarts Kyle Busch or Denny Hamlin?
Jan 26, 2015, 4:38 PM EST
After last year’s exciting Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR chairman Brian France painted a very positive state of the sport Monday. There are still challenges, but NASCAR is working at fixing those.
Jan 26, 2015, 4:05 PM EST
NASCAR Chairman Brian France says series officials are not looking to eliminate the four-car limit for teams.
Jan 26, 2015, 3:58 PM EST
The wireless communications company already has announced its departure after the end of its contract in 2016
Jan 26, 2015, 3:30 PM EST
Devon Amos, Jay Beasley, Collin Cabre, Natalie Decker, Kenzie Ruston, and Dylan Smith part of this year’s D4D program; an update on Daytona Rising renovation project.
Jan 26, 2015, 3:22 PM EST
Greg Morin, a pit coach overseeing the crews of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., is leaving his position after January.
Jan 26, 2015, 3:08 PM EST
NASCAR has outlawed the practice of teams manipulating — or flaring out — of rear side skirts to produce an aerodynamic advantage.
Jan 26, 2015, 1:25 PM EST
The Grove gang reveals its lineup for the first F1 preseason test of 2015.
Jan 26, 2015, 12:00 PM EST
Video game retail company continues support of Joe Gibbs Racing’s XFINITY Series program.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:30 AM EST
Official launch of the new car is set for Friday.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:09 AM EST
NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett will join NBC and NBCSN’s coverage of NASCAR in 2015, it was announced Monday.
National Motorsports Press Association honors Lynda Petty, Kevin Harvick and others for service, achievement
Jan 26, 2015, 10:31 AM EST
Richard Petty’s late wife, Lynda, and 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick were among those who were honored during Sunday’s National Motorsports Press Association annual awards banquet.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
Lotus hopes to put a less-than-competitive 2014 to rest with the help of its new car.
Jan 26, 2015, 9:36 AM EST
A long layoff has drivers such as Danica Patrick ready ‘to take out this aggression somewhere right now.’
Jan 25, 2015, 11:33 PM EST
A big fan of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. posed a rather interesting question to his Twitter followers: Could NASCAR ever do — let alone consider — a 24-hour race?
Video from NASCAR America
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