After battling to save fuel, Ryan Hunter-Reay finishes 2nd in GP of Indy

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It’s one of the toughest situations a race car driver can face when he or she is fighting for a win: Having to save fuel just to make it to the checkered flag.

In the closing laps of today’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay both had to face that battle while third-place Helio Castroneves was charging toward them after pitting with 12 laps to go in the 82-lap race.

But just as Pagenaud’s fuel load held out and enabled him to win, Hunter-Reay’s fuel load did the same and he was able to pick up a second-place result to begin his Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Honda just gave us a great amount of power with the mileage that we needed to do what we did today,” the American driver said. “We were saving the same amount of fuel lap after lap and then they gave me the green light to go. I was catching him a bit and when you’re saving fuel so much, it’s tough when you go right back to 110 percent and hit all your marks, but we were catching him.”

After a crash in the waning moments of qualifying yesterday cost him the pole, Hunter-Reay started third for today’s race, which began with a bad crash off the standing start as pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled and was then hit from behind.

Hunter-Reay gridded up directly behind Saavedra, but was able to get himself to the inside of Saavedra and past Jack Hawksworth to take the lead before the caution came out as Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin plowed into the Colombian.

“The start was a bit nuts,” Hunter-Reay said. “For some reason, I told myself before the race, ‘Expect something strange to happen on the front row.’ I was ready for it when it happened. I still had a good start to boot, so I was pretty happy with the way that went.

“I threaded the needle between them and I was just hoping another car wasn’t already coming into that spot.”

On the lap after the restart at Lap 8, both Hawksworth and Pagenaud got by him and Hunter-Reay hovered around the second/third place range for the remainder.

Today’s race was a strange one in Hunter-Reay’s eyes as various strategies, both in pitting and in tires, played out during the afternoon.

“The rhythm was off at times,” he said. “You didn’t know who you were racing or where the strategy was going. Guys were on three-stoppers, guys were on two-stoppers, different tire strategies.

“It was a busy day, that’s for sure.”

But ultimately, it was a rewarding one.

Hunter-Reay now sits just one point behind eighth-place finisher Will Power for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead as preparations for the 98th Indianapolis 500 begin tomorrow on the Indy oval.

Penske: No room for Patrick in Indy 500 lineup. Ganassi? OK

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Roger Penske has no room in his Indianapolis 500 lineup for Danica Patrick.

“The Captain” has a hunch where Patrick’s Indy comeback will take her in May – with Chip Ganassi.

“I sent him a note and said, `Congratulations. Danica better be driving your car at Indy because unfortunately she’s not driving for us,”‘ Penske said, laughing.

The 35-year-old Patrick said this week she will race only in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 next year and then she will walk away from racing. Patrick is the only woman to have led laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Patrick ran the Indy 500 from 2005 through 2011. Her highest finish was third in 2009, and she was the first woman to lead laps in the race when she paced the field for 19 trips around the Brickyard as a rookie.

Penske has a full field for Indy with Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden racing as fulltime entries and three-time winner Helio Castroneves returns on a one-shot deal to try and win a fourth.

Chip Ganassi Racing is the likely ride at Indy. Ganassi has room to field additional cars – he’s scaling down from four full-time cars to two next year – and would give Patrick a car capable of winning. Ganassi said Friday he has met with Patrick and called her “Danica Double” a great idea.

Penske said Patrick and Ganassi, who has Ed Jones and IndyCar great Scott Dixon in his lineup, would be a perfect pair.

“I think that’s a great seat for her,” Penske said Saturday. “That’s a great team. They’re the ones that’s always been competitive there. I take my hat off that she wants to continue to go back to open wheel. That’s going to be terrific for the sport and there’s going to be a lot of interest around the country.”

Patrick was highly marketable early in her career even though wins were rare. She won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013, but finished 24th in the standings the last two seasons. She won her only IndyCar race in 2008, in Japan. Patrick never scored a top-five finish in NASCAR and had only seven top 10s (though she led laps at the Daytona 500) in 189 career starts.

Penske, a 16-time winner as a car owner of the Indy 500, said Patrick would return to IndyCar a better driver.

“I think she’s going to come back to IndyCar a lot tougher having run in NASCAR,” he said. “I think she’s going to be someone that, in a good car, is going to pick it up. She’s got plenty of time to practice.”

Team Penske won the owner championship Saturday in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. Sam Hornish Jr., who won three IndyCar titles and the 2006 Indy 500, said the sport would welcome back Patrick.

“She’s probably going to have a better shot at Indy because of what she’s done the last five years,” Hornish said.

Patrick has not revealed the team she’ll race for but surely a package deal with the same team and same sponsor for the biggest races in motorsports would make her again racing’s most marketable driver.

“I think it’s a great way for her to say, hey, I’m here, I’ve done it, I’m going to go back to the two biggest races and see if I can’t get out on top,” Penske said.

Penske can win a NASCAR championship with Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup race.

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