IRL Notes: Quals Tough On Hunter-Reay

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ON THE HOOK: Dan Wheldon's car is hauled from the race track Sunday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., after a lap-one crash that saw the Englishman get upside down. (Tom Parker Photo)

ON THE HOOK: Dan Wheldon’s car is hauled from the race track Sunday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., after a lap-one crash that saw the Englishman get upside down. (Tom Parker Photo)

SONOMA, Calif. — One-tenth of a second isn’t very long — probably less than the blink of an eye — but that’s the amount of time that Team IZOD driver Ryan Hunter-Reay missed making the Firestone Fast Six Saturday at Infineon Raceway.

So instead of starting sixth or better in Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, Hunter-Reay started eighth.

“Today, it is close,” Hunter-Reay said. “The road course competition is ridiculous right now. It’s great for the sport; Sunday will be a great race. We are starting eighth and we can race from there. It’s super disappointing not to make the Fast Six though.”

Hunter-Reay hoped to drive through the field from his eighth starting position to get into the top five or challenge for the victory. Instead, the Andretti Autosport driver finished right where he started — eighth.

“Qualifying really seals your fate at this track,” Hunter-Reay said. “This race just doesn’t feature a lot of passing. In the car today, it was pretty monotonous. Hopefully, the fans got a good show at some point. But, we’re getting out of Sonoma with a top 10. We really wanted to give all our guests here this weekend a performance worthy of their great support. We’re capable of it, but it just wasn’t meant to be this weekend.”

– Danica Patrick set the record for most consecutive finishes running at the end of the race with 29. She improved seven positions, but considering the fact she started way back in 23rd place, a 16th-place wasn’t what she had in mind.

“That was a frustrating way to end a tough weekend for the GoDaddy car,” Patrick said. “I had a solid car throughout the race and really thought that I was going to finish in the top 10, but I got caught up with (Takuma) Sato at the end. It’s hard when you have a good race, but the result doesn’t show.”

– Will Power’s team owner, Roger Penske, had plenty of reasons to be proud after watching his driver lead 73 of the 75 laps in Sunday’s race and strengthen his grip on the IZOD IndyCar Series point lead.

“Will and the Verizon team did a terrific job today and they have been great all season long,” Penske said. “To win here at Sonoma after last year is a testament to Will’s toughness and his determination. We were able to wrap up the Mario Andretti Road Course Championship, and both Will and the Verizon team are focused on winning the overall title this year as well.”

– Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske finished fourth and admitted he is a bit in awe of fellow Australian and teammate Will Power.

“Will Power is a machine,” Briscoe said. “Congratulations to him for bringing Team Penske another victory. Our No. 6 car was really good today. We were able to make up a position and we fought hard with the Ganassi cars all day long. I had a great afternoon here at Infineon today — the stands were filled and the fans were great, so thanks to them, too. Again, good job to Will.”

– Graham Rahal started 16th and raced his way to a ninth-place finish — an improvement of seven positions in the race.

“The race went pretty well for the Quick Trim team,” Rahal said. “We certainly had our ups and downs. I thought the first stint was really promising for us when we got up in the top 10 in one stint. I think we were probably the quickest of the group that we were in at that point, but we went to blacks and really started to struggle and couldn’t get it sorted out. We struggled through that stint, but got out of it OK. Then we put the red Firestones on and I thought it would be a lot like the first stint. I thought that even though we didn’t have the ultimate pace of (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, (Tony) Kanaan and some of those guys, I thought that at the end of the day when everybody else started to fall out of the saddle we could catch up. Unfortunately it just didn’t work out that way. The guys did a good job in the pits and everybody worked extremely hard.

“This was definitely not an easy weekend. I think we all have to be pretty pleased with the end result. Now we’ve got Chicagoland next week and it’s a place that we know we could have potentially won the race last year. There’s no reason we can’t do it this time.”