Hunter-Reay makes welcome return to podium in Detroit

Photo: IndyCar

Much of the focus was on the younger Americans this weekend in Detroit – Alexander Rossi was coming off the high of winning the Indianapolis 500, Conor Daly starred in both races and Josef Newgarden put in a good run to fourth on Sunday – but the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most successful American at the moment was the highest finishing of all of them in Sunday’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans race two.

Ryan Hunter-Reay made a welcome return to the podium in third place in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, his first podium since ending third in the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

It served as a key result for Hunter-Reay after a series of hard-luck misses since St. Petersburg. Arguably the price of admission on his own at Phoenix and having had one of the best cars in the field at the Indianapolis 500, finishes of 10th and 24th didn’t do either drive justice.

Sunday in Detroit, Hunter-Reay started second after ending fastest in his qualifying group and then stayed consistently in the lead group during the race. He closed on Simon Pagenaud in the final stages of the race but was unable to get around the Frenchman and series points leader.

After a seventh on Saturday, which had been his best result since St. Petersburg, the third on Sunday brought Hunter-Reay to 13th in points (224), albeit only 53 points behind second-placed Scott Dixon (277).

“It was pretty drama-free. Just drove as hard as I could the entire time and wound up third unfortunately,” Hunter-Reay said in the post-race press conference.

“Congrats to Team Penske. It was nice to finish third after the heartbreak of Indy, to have a solid run today. Obviously we’re not happy with third.”

Hunter-Reay also described the physicality of the weekend.

“It was brutal. We ran it a little too low. We missed it there. The bumps were worse this year. You hear us IndyCar drivers talk about that. Everybody is like, ‘Oh, be quiet about the bumps.’

“But we run the cars on the ground basically already, right? When they do bottom and they hit on a big bump like that, our seats are this thin on the bottom, it goes right through your back. It hurts and it makes for an extremely physical race that way because you have all the kickback in the wheel.

“Detroit is one of the more physical tracks. Doing two races coming off a mentally and physically fatiguing Indy 500 month is as tough as it gets for sure. I wish there was something that looked more dramatic for you and the fans to see in the car. We’re wrestling those things. We’re pushing it to 110%.”

Hunter-Reay heads to Texas along with the rest of the field this week (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN). He finished second this race in 2013 but otherwise hasn’t banked another top five there in 10 past Texas starts.