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.

Danica says goodbye: ‘Definitely not a great ending’ but ‘I’m for sure grateful’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s final racing news conference didn’t but at least she didn’t lose her sense of humor about it.

“Is that like the Oscars when they close the show out?” Patrick joked when her opening address was drowned out by the midrace broadcast of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the media center. “Take my mic away. I’ll leave. I promise. I don’t really want to be here because I’m pretty sad, but all right. I guess I’ll stop there.”

That was about as lighthearted as it got, though, for the most accomplished female driver in racing history after the final start of her career. That naturally made for some reflection, too.

“I will say that I’m for sure very grateful for everybody,” she said. “It still was a lot of great moments this month. A lot of great moments this year.”

Patrick was the first woman to lead both the Indianapolis 500 (in her 2005 debut) and the Daytona 500 (in 2013 when she also was the first female to qualify on pole position in NACAR history).

But she couldn’t bookend that with similarly memorable finishes. After crashing out of her final two Cup races in the November 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 2018 Daytona 500, Indy concluded the same way.

“Definitely not a great ending,” she said. “But I kind of said before I came here that it could be a complete disaster, as in not in the ballpark at all. And look silly, then people may remember that. And if I win, people will remember that.

“Probably anything in between might just be a little part of the big story. So I kind of feel like that’s how it is. I’m appreciative for all the fans, for GoDaddy, for Ed Carpenter Racing, for IndyCar. Today was a tough day. A little bit of it was OK. A lot of it was just a typical drive.”

Beforehand, Patrick seemed relaxed while smiling and laughing outside her car with a tight circle of close friends and family that included her parents and boyfriend Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

“For sure, I was definitely nervous,” she said about her first Indy 500 start in seven years. “I found myself most of the time on the grid being confused what part of prerace we were in. I was like, ‘I remember this,’ and ‘Where are the Taps?’ and ‘When is the anthem?’ but I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”

And with that, she bid adieu.

“Thank you guys,” she said. “Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you. Most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little. Thanks, guys.”