Ryan Hunter-Reay goes for 4 straight in Andretti-promoted events

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This weekend’s Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT (2 p.m. EST, Sunday, NBCSN) is a pivotal one for several drivers, but particularly for defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay as he seeks to continue his quest for a repeat. He enters the weekend third in points, trailing championship leader Helio Castroneves by 62 points (479-417).

A year ago in Baltimore, a mix of an excellent strategy by Andretti Autosport team owner and strategist Michael Andretti, coupled with a perfect last restart to take the lead from Ryan Briscoe, propelled Hunter-Reay to his fourth win of 2012 and within 17 points of Will Power going into the championship-decider at Fontana.

A reader brought this to my attention yesterday, and reminded me Hunter-Reay has an interesting streak on the line heading into this weekend’s race. He and the team are a perfect 3-for-3 in races Andretti’s Andretti Sports Marketing group promotes. “RHR” has won both Milwaukee races, and Baltimore a year ago.

I’ll admit my Formula 1 and sporadic NASCAR picks have left something to be desired all year. But, my hints that Charlie Kimball and Will Power would win at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma have come to fruition in the last two IndyCar races… so I like Hunter-Reay’s chances this weekend.

If RHR doesn’t pull off the four-peat, I think there’s a very good chance IndyCar will have its record-tying 11th different winner in a season, and my odds-on pick in that group is Dario Franchitti, which would be Ganassi’s first win in Baltimore.

We’ll see how it all shakes out and whether the crystal ball proved clear or cloudy on Sunday.

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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