Hunter-Reay looks to put TMS troubles behind him

FORT WORTH, Texas — Ryan Hunter-Reay found a bright spot when looking back on his 21st-place finish at last year’s Firestone 550.

That finish, which was caused by a mechanical failure, would be the last lowlight on the season for the American driver in the IndyCar Series.

Hunter-Reay followed up that disappointing run at Texas Motor Speedway with three consecutive victories in the series on his way to his first-ever IndyCar championship.

Hunter-Reay, who pilots the No. 1 Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport, wouldn’t mind seeing a similar ending to his 2013 season. But he would also like the hot streak to start a race earlier with Saturday’s Firestone 550.

“I do enjoy Texas,” said Hunter-Reay. “It’s kind of high-intensity racing. It’s tough to get it right there, that’s for sure.”

Hunter-Reay has found that out throughout his career. Since he made his TMS debut in 2008, his best finish there is seventh. He has just two top-10 finishes while never leading a lap. He would like to reverse that trend starting Saturday, although he knows there are no guarantees.

“Unfulfilled,” Hunter-Reay said in summing up his Texas experience. “Last year we had an engine issue that sidelined us after we had a good car. In 2008 I was third with a couple of laps to go (finished 20th). The story kind of goes that way. We’ve been coming up short at Texas. It’s time to cash in for sure, but it really depends on the car you have that year.  An oval can be the most fun you have in a race car if you have a good car. If you don’t have a good car, it can be longest day of your life.”

Maybe this is the year he’s turning things around. Hunter-Reay cut a tire in practice Friday and cut short his run in the first session. But in qualifying he nabbed the No. 3 spot, his best starting spot at TMS in his career.

While Hunter-Reay has had trouble in the past at TMS, he’s still got a solid shot at repeating as series champion. He’s already won once this year and is third in points, just 17 behind co-leaders Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves.

Hunter-Reay’s track versatility was one of the main reasons he was able to get Andretti Autosport a championship last year.

“That is very important for this series to have a guy that can do that because that is the only way you are going to win the championship because it is so competitive out there,” team owner Michael Andretti said. “Ryan has done exactly what we had hoped when he joined the team. As for the championship last year it was just such a great feeling to get Ryan up there and get the championship in the way that we did.”

While Hunter-Reay isn’t leading the series, he also hasn’t hurt his chances at repeating. That’s been important to him. Last year he was in a scramble mode at the same time, as he came to Texas seventh in points.

“It’s been as strange year in many ways,” Hunter-Reay. “If you would have picked the standings where they are right now early in the season, you wouldn’t have a lot of right ones now. The points are so close because it’s been so mixed up. It’s really anybody’s title right now. The championship race is wide open.”