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Hunter-Reay eager to build on big weekend

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has bigger goals than simply snapping a losing streak.

The 37-year-old Hunter-Reay had been running well this year, but his victory in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit was his first IndyCar win since 2015. It capped an impressive weekend that also included a second-place finish on Saturday. He has six top-five finishes through eight races of the Verizon IndyCar Series the season, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before he ended his drought.

Now his mind is on the IndyCar standings. He’s in fourth place, 31 points behind leader Will Power.

“I have to just keep chipping away, chipping away,” he said. “If you keep finishing in the top three, top five, top three, top five, wins, that’s how you challenge for a championship, so that’s what we’re focused on doing.”

Hunter-Reay was the series champion in 2012 and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. From 2012-14, he won nine times, but after two more victories in 2015, the dry spell began. While he wasn’t irrelevant, he didn’t finish higher than third for the next two seasons.

Hunter-Reay led a combined 80 laps at the Indy 500 in 2016 and 2017 but finished out of the top 20 both times.

Now he’s off to a strong start this season, and IndyCar’s new race cars are to his liking.

“At times with the aero kit, the manufacturer aero kit, we might have struggled a little bit. Our team did, and we just weren’t firing on all cylinders for some reason,” he said. “But now again with a universal aero kit, we’re right back on a level playing field again, just like we left off in `12, `13 and `14.”

Hunter-Reay began the year with two top-five finishes, and he added a second-place showing in Alabama in April. He finished fifth at the Indy 500, then headed to Detroit.

In the first of two races at Belle Isle last weekend, Hunter-Reay came in second to Scott Dixon. It was a strong race for him, but the losing streak continued.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “We came up close.”

There was still another chance Sunday, and Hunter-Reay made the most of it, chasing down teammate Alexander Rossi late in the race and eventually passing him when Rossi went sliding toward the runoff area on a turn. From there, it was smooth sailing. Hunter-Reay won easily.

It was an impressive weekend for Andretti Autosport. Hunter-Reay, Rossi and Marco Andretti finished 2-3-4 in the first Belle Isle race, then Hunter-Reay overtook Rossi to win the second one. Hunter-Reay was asked where Sunday’s performance ranked in his career.

“To be that much faster than the rest of the field, yeah, it’s got to be one of my top races,” he said. “I mean, I’ll always put 2014 Indy 500 as my top one because going back every lap with Helio (Castroneves) like that, it’s a different type of race. This one was based on pure speed, not making any mistakes and going fast.”

It was an emphatic way to end the weekend – and perhaps send a message about the rest of the season.

“I know I have the talent to win the races, and just have to think positive. I’ve got the best job on earth, so I come and show up in the morning and there’s a yellow car there with my name on the side of it, and I go to work as an IndyCar car driver,” Hunter-Reay said. “I absolutely knew we could get back in Victory Lane, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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