Strong season ending finish, new deal gives Hunter-Reay promising outlook

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Ryan Hunter-Reay will be the first to admit it was a rough 2016 season for himself and his Andretti Autosport team.

For the first time since 2009, he failed to win at least one race in a season (although he did earn three podium finishes).

Even worse, he recorded the second-worst season finish in his Verizon IndyCar Series career, ending in 12th. That’s the lowest showing since he finished 15th, also in 2009, and that year saw him bounce between two teams.

However, all was not gloom and doom: the 2012 series champion ended this season on a high note, finishing fourth in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

“It’s nice to have a decent finish, but if we’re not stepping on top of the podium, we’re not really doing the job,” he said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a tough season at times, lots of missed opportunities, but we have done the job sometimes and we need to redouble our efforts.”

Hunter-Reay will get plenty of opportunities to redouble his efforts going forward, as he signed a contract extension prior to Sunday’s race. Instead of 2017 being the last year of his current deal, he’ll now be with Andretti Autosport for four more seasons, through 2020.

Primary sponsor DHL, which has graced the side of Hunter-Reay’s race car since 2011 (and has been with the Andretti group since 2005), will also remain with the team for the next four seasons, as well.

“I’m very happy about this, and obviously it’s been a lot of highs and a lot of lows,” Hunter-Reay said. “Just been a wild ride the last week.”

Indeed, it was, one of blissful happiness followed by unspeakable tragedy.

Hunter-Reay’s wife, Beccy, gave birth to their third son on Wednesday, a joyous gift that came two days before Beccy’s birthday.

Sadly, however, less than 24 hours later came news from California that Beccy’s father – off-road racing legend Bob Gordon – and his wife were found dead in what police believe to be a murder-suicide.

“Beccy is doing amazing, she’s strong,” Hunter-Reay said. “Focusing on a new baby has been a blessing at this time. It’s amazing she is, how strong Robby has been, her sisters Robyn and Haylee. It’s blown me away because this is nothing you can compare to, this isn’t as simple as a life passing.”

While the grieving and healing will take a long time, at least Hunter-Reay – who is the most successful active American driver in the IndyCar Series with 16 wins, 36 podiums, a win in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and the afore-mentioned 2012 championship – knows his racing future is in good shape.

“When it comes to getting in the car and opportunities, I’m a fighter,” he said. “I was on the brink in 2006, 2007.

“(I) was maybe a month away from going and doing something else with my life. Every time I got in the car, I knew I had to prove myself immediately. It was never a two-year deal where I could take my time developing.”

So, while he struggled for much of this season, Hunter-Reay came up a winner nonetheless Sunday. It may not show up in this year’s standings, but he’ll now have plenty of time to get back to his old form.

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

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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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)