Fresh Tires Give Hunter-Reay Iowa Victory

Ryan Hunter-Reay has signed a contract extension to remain with Andretti Autosport. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates after winning Saturday's Verizon IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates after winning Saturday’s Verizon IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway. (Al Steinberg Photo)

NEWTON, Iowa – Tony Kanaan looked like a sure bet to score his first victory since the 2013 Indianapolis 500 in Saturday night’s Iowa Corn Indy 300. That was before two drivers made a gamble that paid off in a big way by pitting for four fresh tires during the final caution period of the race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay blasted his way to the front of the field with just two laps left to steal an apparent victory away from Kanaan as the winner of the 98th Indianapolis 500 scored his third win this season in Saturday night’s Iowa Corn Indy 300 at Iowa Speedway.

Hunter-Reay’s team owner Michael Andretti made a bold call to change four tires on the final pit stop with the laps winding down to give him a Honda IndyCar capable of winning.

“We took the tires as a big gamble and credit to engineer Ray Gosselin and the crew to make that call because I didn’t think we had enough time,” Hunter-Reay said. “That was like a video game at the end. The thing was like it was on rails at the end. We had to keep our head in it and never give up. Everybody was on old tires and I was on new. That was amazing.”

Hunter-Reay is the first driver to win three races this season.

“What a crazy day,” Hunter-Reay said after leading the final two laps. “That was unreal. We started off with a bang, went for it, picked up like six spots from the start, turn one and two. Then we settled into a good rhythm. We were really good on the first two stints. We had trouble on the track. We had trouble in pit lane. We had trouble all over the place. It wasn’t going our way. We were constantly seventh, eighth, ninth. Just couldn’t get anything to really go right, you know.

“Then at the end Michael Andretti made a bold move there, a pretty bold call, to call me in and take stickers. I didn’t think we’d have enough time because of the way things were panning out with Montoya’s car and the wall. Credit to the safety team, they got that car cleaned up and we had just enough time to make it happen. We passed Tony coming to the white flag.

“It was a lot of fun the last few laps, as I’m sure (Josef) Newgarden told you. It was unreal. I hope I get to do that sometime again in my career, but I don’t think I’ll have 10 cars in front of me all on used tires and there I am on new.”

Josef Newgarden finished second in another Honda, just .5814 of a second behind the winner after starting 21st. He used the same tire strategy that Hunter-Reay used to win the race.

“It’s the most fun experience I’ve had in a race; it was a great call,” Newgarden said. “If it was going to play out it was going to be between Ryan and I. With five laps to go it was going to be really good. We kept with it and at the end there make it when it counted. We were catching all the breaks we could.

“We had a really good car for the most part,” Newgarden said. “I don’t think we had a winning car tonight, but we were right in the back half of the top five, definitely right inside the top 10, running with the Andretti guys a lot. I’m just really happy about the call we made. That was great.

“It was like a video game at the end pretty much. A little unfair almost, but it was fun.

“I knew it was going to be interesting when I was lined up, Hunter-Reay ninth, Graham Rahal 10th, us 11th. You knew it was going to be an interesting end to the race. We just had to find the clean lanes and it really worked out well for us.”

It looked like Kanaan would make it to victory lane for the first time since he won the 2013 Indianapolis 500. He led 247 of the 300 laps in the race but finished third in a Chevrolet.

In 2008 Kanaan had an opportunity to drive the No. 10 Target/Chip Ganassi IndyCar and he turned it down – a move that he later regretted as Dario Franchitti won two of his three Indianapolis 500s and three of his four IndyCar Series championships in that ride. But when Franchitti was forced into early retirement by doctor’s orders following a career-ending crash at Houston last October, Kanaan got a second chance to drive the famed No. 10 and it looked like it would power him to victory lane.

“They took a gamble and it’s such a shame because we dominated the race,” Kanaan said. “What can I do? To win races we have to run up front. Take the third place and move on. Man, we can’t get it right. We will.

“Strong result? Well, it was a good one. What can I say? We had a good day. I mean we led 247 laps out of 300. I think we showed them what we had. At the end there sometimes strategies and gambles play out. We got played. Fair enough.

“I’ve won races like that, too. I lost today. It’s just hard to take it. But I think to win races we got to run up front, and that’s what we’ve been doing in the past three races. We just got to keep doing that. There’s nothing I can do about it.”