IndyCar Fontana update: Ryan Hunter-Reay leads; title battle for Power, Helio continues

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Indianapolis 500 champ Ryan Hunter-Reay is threatening to win another 500-miler in the Verizon IndyCar Series, leading the season-ending MAV TV 500 at the halfway point.

Meanwhile, Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves continue to battle for the championship. Castroneves is doing all he can to track down Power by running in the Top 3, while Power has gradually moved into the Top 10 after starting from the back.

Power dropped back noticeably following the green flag, opting to race conservatively for the time being. But the Australian eventually started to make slow but steady progress, climbing up to 15th by Lap 20.

Meanwhile up front, pole sitter Castroneves – who entered tonight’s double-points finale down 50 points to Power in the championship – led the first five laps before Juan Pablo Montoya took the lead from him. A short time later, Sonoma winner Scott Dixon also passed the Brazilian, who settled early in third position.

But the third championship contender, Simon Pagenaud, suffered with poor handling on his car and was forced to pit under green at Lap 22 for tires, fuel, and needed chassis adjustment. Unfortunately, that knocked him two laps off the pace and potentially finished his admittedly dim title hopes; he was down 81 points to Power going into tonight.

Montoya pitted from the lead at Lap 35 to start the first wave of stops for the leaders. The Colombian, who won the most recent IndyCar 500-mile race in July at Pocono, cycled back to P1 at Lap 40 with Scott Dixon retaining second.

However, James Hinchcliffe was able to get ahead of Castroneves for third, while Power had continued his patient march up to 12th at this point.

Hinchcliffe was then able to dispatch Dixon for second, and shortly after Lap 50, he started to make life difficult for Montoya at the point before blowing by him on the inside to assume control at Lap 58.

The second wave of stops began around Lap 65, but the Mayor of Hinchtown would stretch his second stint out to Lap 73 before he gave up the lead for service.

That gave the lead back to Montoya, while Castroneves and Ed Carpenter moved up to second and third respectively after great pit stops. As for Power, he made another move forward, climbing up to 10th following this cycle.

At Lap 85, Carpenter – always a threat to win anytime he straps in for an oval race – went past Castroneves on the outside to claim second place. Over the course of the stint, Castroneves dropped back to fifth before Montoya chose to pit once more at Lap 100.

Carpenter gave up the lead to pit at Lap 103, but was called for speeding on pit road and was relegated to 13th after serving the drive-through penalty. With that, Montoya re-assumed control of the race until Lap 120, when Hunter-Reay jumped to the lead.

You can watch the MAVTV 500 NOW on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.