Hunter-Reay wins Indianapolis 500 in a thrilling finish

 

The Sports Network

Indianapolis, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 after beating Helio Castroneves to the finish line by the slimmest of margins on Sunday.

Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar Series champion, crossed the line just 0.060 seconds ahead of Castroneves, making it the second-smallest margin of victory in the history of this prestigious automobile race. The record for closest finish ever in the Indy 500 occurred in 1992, when Al Unser Jr. won by only 0.043 seconds over Scott Goodyear.

Hunter-Reay, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida native, became the first American to win the Indy 500 since Sam Hornish Jr. did it in 2006.

"It's a dream come true. I can't even believe it," said Hunter-Reay, who started 19th in his No. 28 Andretti Autosport car. "It hasn't even sunk in yet. A dream has come true today. I'm a proud American boy, that's for sure."

In last year's Indy 500, Hunter-Reay held the lead for the final restart with three laps left, but Tony Kanaan pulled ahead of Hunter-Reay for the top spot just before Dario Franchitti crashed into the wall, forcing the race to end under caution. Kanaan won the Indy 500 for the first time in his 12th attempt, while Hunter-Reay ended up finishing third.

Hunter-Reay's first victory in this race came in his seventh try.

The Indy 500 featured 34 lead changes among 11 drivers and moved at a pace of 186.563 mph, which was second quickest to last year's record pace of 187.433 mph. Hunter-Reay led the most laps with 56, followed by Castroneves with 38.

The fourth and final caution occurred with 10 laps remaining when Townsend Bell spun out and backed it hard into the turn 2 wall. Debris from Bell's heavily-damaged car littered the track, prompting IndyCar officials to display the red flag and stop the race briefly for cleanup efforts.

Hunter-Reay led the way for the last restart with six laps to go, but Castroneves pulled ahead of him with five laps left. Hunter-Reay then made a bold move to the inside of Castroneves and reclaimed the lead for good on the following lap.

The margin between Hunter-Reay and Castroneves when they crossed the line to complete the penultimate lap was a scant 0.0235 seconds.

"It was a fantastic fight to the finish," Hunter-Reay said. "It went green the whole way, and I loved that, because I wouldn't have wanted to win it under yellow. I'll win it any way I can, don't get me wrong, but winning it under green like that, just a fantastic finish with Helio. We raced each other clean but really hard."

This was the third Indy 500 victory for team owner Michael Andretti. Dan Wheldon (2005) and Dario Franchitti (2007) also gave Andretti a win here.

"[Hunter-Reay] drove a perfect last six laps there at the end after that red flag," Andretti said. "To have him get a win here is just awesome. He deserves it."

Castroneves, a Brazilian, was attempting to win the 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a record-tying fourth time.

"Congratulations to Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport. They did an outstanding job," Castroneves said. "It's interesting when second place kind of sucks. What a fight. But certainly taking the positive out of this. It was a great race. I did everything I could to try to stop Ryan. I'm extremely happy with the result."

Marco Andretti, who is Hunter-Reay's teammate, finished third, followed by Carlos Munoz and Juan Pablo Montoya, who made his first start in this race since winning it in 2000.

Kurt Busch started his double-duty on Sunday by finishing sixth in the Indy 500, completing all 500 miles. It was the first time Busch had competed in an IndyCar race. He was the highest-finishing rookie, driving the No. 26 car for Andretti.

"I'm really happy an Andretti car won with Ryan Hunter-Reay," and as for my first experience, I couldn't have asked for anything more," Busch said.

After the Indy 500 concluded, Busch immediately left Indianapolis and flew to Concord, North Carolina to compete in Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He arrived at the track in Concord roughly one hour before the start of the event there.

"I feel great, and the adrenaline has kicked in," Busch said during an interview on Fox television, which aired the race from Charlotte. "Here we are at the 600. I almost have to forget that I ran 500 miles earlier and just zone in with the two portions of the [Coca-Cola 600], daytime and nighttime."

The Indy 500 ran caution-free until lap 150 when Charlie Kimball spun coming out of turn 2 and crashed into the wall.

Scott Dixon, the defending IndyCar champion, wrecked hard into the wall in turn 4 on lap 168, forcing the second caution. Dixon ended up finishing 29th.

After the restart on lap 175, Ed Carpenter, the pole sitter, and James Hinchcliffe, who started on the middle of row 1, made contact heading into the first turn and then slid up the track before crashing into the wall. Carpenter, Hinchcliffe and Bell were running three-wide for position at the time of the incident. Bell managed to avoid being caught up in the wreck.

Carpenter, who had led 26 laps earlier, was furious with Hinchcliffe. It was the second year in a row that Carpenter started on the pole for this race.

"This guy [Hinchcliffe] didn't realize how much time we had in the race," Carpenter said. "Townsend and I would have been fine, but the moment when Hinch decided to make it three-wide was more than any of us could handle. It was just a dumb move."

Hinchcliffe took partial blame for the incident.

"Ed gave me the room initially, and I honestly don't think Townsend knew we were three-wide," he said. "From what I saw, Townsend came down into Ed and came down into me. I was the last guy there, so I've got to take a portion of the blame for sure. I feel bad for Ed...It wasn't Ed's fault at all. He had a great month and was doing a great job."

Sebastien Bourdais finished seventh, followed by Will Power and 19-year-old Sage Karam, a rookie in this race. J.R. Hildebrand completed the top-10.

Graham Rahal was the first competitor to retire from the race. Rahal, the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, experienced an electrical issue in the early going.

"I didn't think the car was right from the start. It was slow," Graham Rahal said.

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