Hunter-Reay’s 2015 Iowa win “doesn’t even compare” to 2014

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While Ryan Hunter-Reay has won a pair of races back-to-back at Iowa Speedway, and now three of the last four dating to 2012, his last two could not have been more different.

Saturday’s race win snapped a 19-race drought dating to last year’s Iowa Corn 300, and made Hunter-Reay the ninth different winner in 13 Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2015. It was also his first podium finish of the season.

Hunter-Reay gambled on tire strategy and fresh tires to basically steal the 2014 race win, but in 2015, he, Honda and Andretti Autosport beat Josef Newgarden in a head-to-head fight.

“Doesn’t even compare,” Hunter-Reay said post-race on Saturday. “The win last year was pretty cool because Michael made a great call. I was pretty skeptical at the time. We blitzed the field at the end of the race. That was a lot of fun.

“But this is a big deal, to come in and to be on the slump we’ve been on, to come in from ninth, work at it, earn the race win, really earn it in the fashion that we did, it’s a statement win. It’s big for us. It’s big for everybody involved in this team.”

The win came as Hunter-Reay entered the race 14th in points, needing help to keep his consecutive years streak of winning a race alive. He has now won at least once every year since 2010.

“It’s still been a tough season, but that makes this win sweet. It really does. The last 20 laps felt like an hour and a half just knowing how important this was to me, to the team, to our partners, DHL, Auto Nation, Honda. This is a big win,” he said.

“We went out and earned this one. We took it away from them, that’s a big deal. So this was, as I said, a massive win for the team. Feels great to be back in Victory Lane. Certainly I’m not happy with the way the season’s gone at all. More than anything at all, I just feel relief, like a big exhale is how I can describe it.”

Unfortunately, it’s also been overshadowed in the immediate aftermath, as frequently seems to be the case for Hunter-Reay throughout his career.

While Hunter-Reay broke through and ended a 19-race winless streak, the bigger story post-race was about Sage Karam and Ed Carpenter, and their war of words after coming too close for comfort in the final stages of the race.

It’s the latest overshadowing for Hunter-Reay, who in the past had his 2012 series championship overlooked due to management turbulence and the departure of Randy Bernard, and who also wasn’t fully exploited as the first American Indianapolis 500 champion in eight years after winning that race in 2014.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”