Ryan Hunter-Reay falls short again: ‘It almost brings you to tears’

(Photo by Chris Owens/IndyCar)

Ryan Hunter-Reay has been so hungry for a win this season that he was ready to devour it in Monday’s weather-delayed ABC Supply 500 Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway.

He overcame considerable adversity during the course of the race, including starting from the rear of the 22-car field, and then his engine mysteriously shut off while he was in the lead.

He fell way back in the pack twice, but roared back both times to challenge for the lead again and again.

All told, Hunter-Reay led a total of 33 laps and, perhaps next to early leader Mikhail Aleshin, who led a race-high 87 laps (of the scheduled 200-lap event), had arguably the best car in the field.

He appeared headed to repeat his last series win, at Pocono last year.

Unfortunately for him, Hunter-Reay’s achievements were somewhat bittersweet: he failed to win once again, although he did equal his best finish of the season for the third time.

“It was really hard, it almost brings you to tears,” Hunter-Reay told NBCSN after the race. “Leading the race and the engine shuts off: what more can happen?

“But, I had a lot of fun out there today, if it’s any consolation, driving through the field twice. This 28 DHL Honda deserved to be in the fight for the win at the end. It was certainly the fastest car out there.”

His third-place finish helped snap a dismal run over the previous three races: he finished 22nd at Iowa, 12th at Toronto and 18th at Mid-Ohio. During that stretch, he dropped from 11th to 13th in the standings.

He rebounded back to 11th in the points after Monday’s run and finds himself just three points out of 10th place (Charlie Kimball), 54 points out of fifth place (Helio Castroneves) and 67 points out of third place (Josef Newgarden).

Hunter-Reay knows he and his team deserves better.

“It’s just been one of those seasons, I guess, right?” he said. “You just have to smile and keep pushing.

“Certainly, DHL deserved this today. I had the car under me to do it, I had everything I needed to, Firestone was excellent; the tires were so consistent through the whole run.

“I was so in the zone in the car today and then to have the engine shut off while leading it. This one’s going to be hard to put behind me, but you just have to do it, I guess.”

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)