Ryan Hunter-Reay wins at Barber

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Ryan Hunter-Reay passed Helio Castroneves for the lead with 15 laps remaining and then held off Scott Dixon by six-tenths of a second to win today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. It’s Hunter-Reay’s first win on a natural terrain road course since 2008 (Watkins Glen), and it comes after three consecutive finishes outside of the Top 10 at the Birmingham road course.

“[I was] driving my tail off trying to stay in front of Dixon,” an exhausted Hunter-Reay said in Victory Lane to NBC Sports Network’s Marty Snider. “…We’ve never had a car like this at Barber. To do that is just unreal.”

Dixon managed to get by Castroneves himself for second place, but was unable to completely reel in Hunter-Reay and was forced to settle for his fourth consecutive runner-up finish in Alabama.

“We had a strong day,” Dixon said. “The car was very quick — I think we had the quickest car out there. We just didn’t have the best of clean days.”

Castroneves slipped back to third position at the finish, but still managed to climb to the top of the IndyCar championship. He’ll take a nine-point edge over Dixon to the next race in two weeks on the streets of Long Beach, California (Apr. 21, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

“We had to change the [tire] strategy in the middle of the race, we had to make time and that’s what we did,” said Castroneves, who finished the race on primary blacks while Hunter-Reay ended on alternate reds. “I thought we would be able to hold on, but it was 15, 17 laps to go. It was too many laps, the blacks were a little tough to hold on with against those guys. At least we got a podium and more points for the championship.”

Charlie Kimball put up a tremendous effort, dicing with the leaders all race long before finishing fourth. Will Power overcame a wild start to the race that saw him shuffled back to eighth and came home in fifth position.

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”