SONOMA, California – Ryan Hunter-Reay arrives in Northern California’s Wine Country mathematically alive for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. But mathematics and realism are two far different principles.
Hunter-Reay was on the charge in last Sunday’s race at The Milwaukee Mile, driving from the 19th starting position to fifth place before getting shuffled back by the only caution period of the race. On Lap 168, however, Hunter-Reay’s Dallara/Honda slowed dramatically when the rear suspension failed and it was obvious his race was over.
His 21st place finish, combined with Will Power’s victory, dropped him from 63 points out of the lead in third place, to 108 points out in fourth place as Simon Pagenaud moved in front.
The 2012 IndyCar Series champion and winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500 knows that with 150 points available in the next two races, he has a chance at the title – it’s just not a realistic one.
“I have to go out and race to win,” Hunter-Reay said. “We needed to finish each of the last three. I don’t think it’s possible from here. We have to win the last two, which would equate to three races because of the double points at Fontana.”
That means Hunter-Reay must win Sunday’s Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma and do the same in the double-points MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway next Saturday night, August 30.
Even back-to-back wins in the final two races may not be enough to give Hunter-Reay the championship, because Team Penske’s Will Power and Helio Castroneves would both have to experience problems in both races to finish back in the pack. And Pagenaud would also have to finish a few positions behind Hunter-Reay in both races.
Power dominated last Sunday’s race at the Milwaukee Mile for the first short-oval victory of his career. He has a 39-point lead over Castroneves and a 92-point lead over Pagenaud.
Hunter-Reay has just three top-10 finishes in seven previous starts at Sonoma. His best finish was sixth last year.
He entered last Sunday’s race as a back-to-back winner at Milwaukee in 2012 and 2013 and was attempting to make it three in a row before the rear suspension failed.
“We had a good start and had a good time doing that but getting caught out by the yellow put us back,” Hunter-Reay said. “We still had a lot of racing left and could have done something with it.
“We put ourselves in a position to challenge for a race win. It just didn’t pan out.
“I could feel it right before that so it wasn’t a clean suspension break; it was something with the right rear – a CV joint popped out or something. It was undriveable. That was probably our championship.
“It is what it is. That’s racing. It was running rough the last four laps so it had to be a CV joint. We had that happen at Indy a few years ago. It’s unfortunate because we came to a track where we were most strong. I had a good race car going from 19th to fifth and I was having a lot of fun.”
Even in disappointment, Hunter-Reay was able to keep it in perspective because, earlier that day, he was rewarded for his impressive success at Andretti Autosport.
“I just signed a three-year deal with Andretti Autosport and I can’t thank DHL (the sponsor) enough, so hopefully we will get many more championships together,” he said.
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. ET.