NASCAR

Hunter-Reay hopes to stay on the move in Infineon

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SONOMA, Calif. (AP)

There have been six different winners in the six years since IndyCar added Infineon Raceway to its schedule in 2005.

Ryan Hunter-Reay sees no reason why he can't make it seven.

Hunter-Reay, whose Aug. 14 win in New Hampshire was upheld by an appeals panel earlier this week, has been the hottest driver on the open-wheel series over the past two months. With five consecutive top-10 finishes, he's jumped from 21st to eighth in the season standings.

''We've had a bit of momentum here the last few races,'' Hunter-Reay said. ''We've been quick the whole year but it's just putting it all together. It comes down to putting yourself in position to win, which is what happened at New Hampshire.''

The 31-year-old Hunter-Reay is coming off his first IndyCar win this season and third of his career.

It didn't come easy.

The course at Loudon was slippery from rains that fell throughout the day and the race was marred by multiple crashes, including one involving Hunter-Reay's Andretti Autosport teammate Danica Patrick that led to the controversial finish.

Patrick's car slid sideways in the wet conditions following a restart with about 10 laps to go, causing a multiple-car accident that knocked out several drivers including Team Penske's Will Power, currently second in the standings behind Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Franchitti's teammate, Scott Dixon, and Spain's Oriol Servia believed they passed Hunter-Reay before the yellow flag came out but IndyCar series president of competition and operations Brian Barnhart made the decision to revert the finishing order to what it had been before the final restart.

Newman/Haas Racing and Target Chip Ganassi appealed the decision but a panel upheld Barnhart's decision earlier this week and Hunter-Reay was awarded the victory.

''We were quietly confident,'' Hunter-Reay said. ''We expected this result the whole time but any time a race comes down to a board room, you're uneasy. It was a little nerve-racking but as a team we were confident.''

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DON'T EXPECT MUCH PASSING: The road course at Infineon Raceway is one of the most unique on the IndyCar circuit. Spread over rolling hills not far from the Napa Valley wine country, the 12-turn, 2.303-mile course presents drivers with challenges they don't normally confront on ovals.

''It's a totally different animal,'' Ryan Hunter-Reay said. ''You're constantly going over undulations, going uphill, downhill. You're never really in a steady state. It's always moving, always changing.''

Hunter-Reay's best finish at the Sonoma track was eighth in 2010. Before that, he placed 18th twice and 19th once.

The key to winning the 75-lap race at Infineon has come down to qualifying.

Each of the past three winners - Will Power (2010), Dario Franchitti (2009) and Helio Castroneves (2008) - all started from the pole. No driver has won here qualifying lower than fifth.

''This is probably the most physical race we go to,'' Power said. ''Once you're in front with a track like this you're pretty set. Qualifying means a lot here.''

Danica Patrick has three top-10 finishes at Infineon but has placed 16th in each of the last two races here.

''This is a real rhythm track,'' Patrick said. ''If you get in a good rhythm here, get comfortable with the car and put it where you want it and get aggressive, it can be a good weekend.''

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INDYCAR MEETS NFL: J.R. Hildebrand is in his first year of racing on the IndyCar circuit full time. This week he finally got a chance to meet one of his bosses - San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

Harbaugh joined Panther Racing in 1997 while he was still playing in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts but hasn't spent much time around the team lately. After leading Stanford to an 11-1 finish and a win in the Orange Bowl in 2011, Harbaugh was hired to resurrect the 49ers.

So Hildebrand - whose car bears the same No. 4 that Harbaugh wore for most of his career in the NFL - decided to pay a visit to the 49ers' facilities in Santa Clara to meet Harbaugh.

''I got a chance to talk to him so that was good,'' Harbaugh said. ''I keep an eye on it a little but I really don't know what's going on outside the fences here. J.R. comes in then I find out about it. It was good to catch up. I hope we can get a win.''

Harbaugh, whose team plays a preseason game against Houston on Saturday, won't be able to attend the race. With the first wave of roster cuts coming next week, the 49ers' head coach will likely be buried in his office pouring over film.

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ETC.: Spain's Oriol Servia - who would have won the New Hampshire race had Barnhart's decision been overturned by the appeals panel - heads into this weekend fourth in the standings, 135 points behind leader Dario Franchitti. That's pretty significant considering Servia didn't even have a ride in 2010. ... Alex Tagliani has two pole positions this season but is still looking for his first win on the IndyCar series. The 38-year-old Canadian, 14th at Infineon in 2010 after starting fourth, crashed in Turn 3 during Friday's practice session but his car suffered minimal damage. ...

Tagged: Danica Patrick

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