Hunter-Reay faced a two-lap sprint to the finish for a shot at Indy 500 glory Sunday afternoon. He had the car, the setup and the position to make a draft-aided move to victory.
Then defending champ Dario Franchitti's crash cut the sprint a lap and a half short.
First became third. Opportunity was lost.
“We had the car to beat,” Hunter-Reay said. “Had we been at the right place at the right time, we could have won it. That's just the way it goes.”
Hunter-Reay entered the restart with the lead on veteran Tony Kanaan and rookie Carlos Munoz. Kanaan and Munoz quickly passed him on the first turn. This wasn't surprising. There were a record 68 lead changes.
Hunter-Reay knew he had a great opportunity to pass them, perhaps as soon as the backstretch.
It never happened.
“We thought we could mount another challenge,” he said. “We knew things could get interesting in a hurry. I was liking where I was. In third I'd get a draft from Carlos, who would get a draft from Tony.”
Unlike NASCAR, the Indy 500 doesn't have a green-white-checkered shootout restart in the event of a crash in the final few laps. The race ends when 200 laps are completed. It's tradition, Hunter-Reay said, and he's fine with that. He'd also be fine with a break from tradition.
“If you can talk (race officials) into rolling us back out there, that would be awesome,” he said. “I'm up for that.”
Hunter-Reay said the IndyCar racing design gives the draft advantage to trailing cars.
“The cars are very racy. You want where good cars out front can stretch the lead. Right now you can have a car that's superior by 2 mph and it won't be able to pull away because it punches that big a hole in the air. You're just a sitting duck out front. We need to tweak that.”Munoz's second-place finish left him wanting more.
“I really wanted to fight for the win,” he said. “Maybe I could win, maybe not, but I really wanted to fight.”
Kanaan was ready to give him a fight.
“He was going to learn a lot in those last two laps,” Kanaan said. “With three laps to go, when I saw him behind me, I said, 'All right, man. Let's start the lessons here.' But it went yellow …”
Munoz, who led 12 laps, won rookie of the year honors. At 21 years old, he seems poised for a bright racing future.
“Hopefully in the future, I will be able to drink milk.”
Milk is the traditional drink given to the Indy 500 winner.The Andretti Indy 500 victory drought is 44 years and counting.
Marco Andretti's fourth-place finish meant grandfather Mario's 1969 win remains the only one on the family resume.
Andretti led 31 laps — he led a total of 15 times, a record for a driver who didn't win — and was positioned for a late surge. Franchitti's crash and the resulting caution ended those hopes. Still, he earned 168 points to take the lead in the driver standings.
“We're frustrated,” Andretti said, “but in the overall picture, we're leading the points.
"When we stopped for a trim adjustment, we were in the worst-case scenario. It was fun for a while, but we just got shuffled back."Pole winner Ed Carpenter led the most laps, 37 to Kanaan's 34. But it wasn't enough. He finished 10th.
“We had a good car. It was a tough race. It was so competitive. If you make one little mistake, you get shuffled back.
“Tenth isn't what we came here for, but it the big scheme of things, it's something to be happy about.”Franchitti's bid for a fourth Indy 500 win came up well short. He finished 23rd after his crash on the final restart. It was the first time in 10 career starts at the Speedway that he had failed to finish the race.
“That sums up our day. Our car was never good all day. In traffic, we couldn't make anything happen. It was loose in the middle with a big understeer.
“I went into the first corner on the last restart and it just didn't turn and then the hit. A big, old hit. When I saw who was leading, it cheered me up. It's phenomenal that Tony won. He's a very deserving winner.”