Hunter-Reay hopes to turn season around at Iowa Speedway

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NEWTON, Iowa – It’s not that Ryan Hunter-Reay is having a bad season, it’s that it has so far been “under the radar.”

The popular driver from Florida is usually involved in some fierce battles at the front of the NTT IndyCar Series. After his 16th-place finish in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto, he is seventh in the standings, 149 points behind the leader, Josef Newgarden with only six races remaining.

Luckily for Hunter-Reay, one of those contests is on one of his better race tracks – the .875-of-a-mile Iowa Speedway short oval.

Watch the Iowa 300 live on NBCSN on Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

Hunter-Reay has three wins and five podiums (top-three) in 11 starts. He drove to victory in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and was third in 2017. He started third at Iowa last year but finished 19th, dropping out with suspension failure after 283 laps in the 300-lap contest.

“We’ve got three wins there; hoping to make it four,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports.com. “I love that track. We’ve had a difficult time there lately. Hopefully, this team as a whole can get back to our winning ways there.

“Short oval racing is always very difficult, especially with the bumps at Iowa. It’s difficult to get the setup right and the teams have a lot of respect for that because of that reason.”

Iowa is the middle race of a very important three-straight weekends of racing in the NTT IndyCar Series. It began with last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto and concludes with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on July 28 before taking another break.

“Three-in-a-row, mid-season, can definitely turn the whole season around,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’re all thinking wins right now. Newgarden has the most wins right now, and we all have to fight that gap, plus the lead two drivers have to trip up as well.

“You have to come into the season ready to go and be ready week-in and week-out.”

Newgarden has a four-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

While those drivers are leading the battle, the other contenders in the championship such as Indy 500, INDYCAR GP and Toronto winner Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Will Power have to “win or else.”

To some race fans who say, “Isn’t that the point of racing – to win?” When an IndyCar driver says that, it means racing with bolder moves and strategy.

It means playing offense more than defense.

“We are taking more risks,” Hunter-Reay explained. “At this point, you are gambling more on strategy, you are taking moves you otherwise wouldn’t do if you were points racing.

“For us, we are focusing on winning. We had two wins in 2018. Our last win was 10 races ago, so we need to get back to it.”

Hunter-Reay continues to fight back from a season-opening 23rdat St. Petersburg when he dropped out of the race with mechanical issues. He also finished 17thin the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Other than that, his season has been solid with a third-place finish at Circuit of the Americas in March as his best finish of the season.

In June, Hunter-Reay had reasonable month including a fifth-place and fourth-place in the two races that make up the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, a fifth at Texas Motor Speedway and an 11that Road America.

But this is Ryan Hunter-Reay, the man called “Captain America” of IndyCar at one point because he was the first driver from the United States to win the IndyCar title in 2012 since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006. When he won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014, he was the first driver from the USA to claim that since Hornish, also in 2006.

Since his Indy 500 win in 2014, some top drivers from America are challenging him for that title including 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Hendersonville, Tennessee and the spectacular emergence of 100thIndianapolis 500 winning driver and weekly thrill-show star Alexander Rossi of Nevada City, California.

“We’ve been in the top-five quite a bit this year, we just have to break through,” Hunter-Reay said. “At Road America, we had a fast car all weekend, but qualifying went pear-shaped. We started 15th, fell back to 18th, then had to fight our way to try to get into the top-10.

“We have to start up front and finish up front.

“I need to get the job done behind the wheel.”

 

Eli Tomac wins Budds Creek, clinches 2019 championship

Vanessa O'Brien (KawasakiUSA)
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Last week Eli Tomac suffered through his worst race of the season and gave Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin a glimmer of hope were the championship was concerned.

On Lap 1 of Moto 1, Tomac did his best to dash that hope. Justin Bogle grabbed the hole shot, but Tomac swept past him immediately and surged to victory.

Moto 2 was much the same. Tomac grabbed the early lead and set his sights on earning maximum points for the weekend. By the end of Moto 2, Tomac had a 15 second lead over Jason Anderson to score his third perfect victory of the season. Tomac also scored a 1-1 at Pala and Washougal.

That was not Tomac’s only victory, however.

With two minutes remaining in Moto 2, Anderson and Marvin Musquin passed Ken Roczen.  That dropped Roczen to 54 points behind Tomac at the time and only elevated Musquin to a 50-point differential. Musquin needed one more position to be able to deny Tomac the championship for one more week, but he was 10 second behind Anderson and unable to make up the gap by the end.

“I didn’t know (I had won the championship) until the last lap,” Tomac said after the race. “I thought I needed one more spot on everyone. I’m just in complete shock right now. All we did today was put our head forward (and) put last week in the past. … Gosh what a way to finish it off. 1-1; it was so cool.”

Tomac is the first rider to win three consecutive championships since Ricky Carmichael won six in a row from 2000-2006.

In Moto 1, Tomac narrowly edged his two points’ rivals. Roczen finished second in that race with Musquin in third.

“It was so special,” Tomac said after he was handed the No. 1 plate that he will affix to his Kawasaki throughout next season. “So many things had to go our way this weekend with having a 1-1 and beating the two guys behind us in second and third (in Moto 1).

Anderson’s pass on Roczen late in Moto 2 was significant for another reason. With a 4-2, he scored a second overall to stand on the podium for the fourth time this season. In doing so, he matched his best finish from RedBud.

“For me, I’m just trying to build my base going into the next Supercross season,” Anderson said afterward. “I feel like I’m getting better.”

Finishing third in both motos was bittersweet equaled a third overall for Musquin. He climbed to second in the points with that finish and if he is able to stay there following next week’s Ironman, it will be the third straight year that he has finished behind Tomac.

Roczen faded to seventh in Moto 2 and with his 2-7 he finished fourth overall. It was a fitting end to his championship hopes because Roczen has faded at the ends of events all season long.

Zach Osborne (5-4) rounded out the top five.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

It’s fair to call Shane McElrath’s 1-1 victory a surprise. Perhaps one can even go so far as to call it a shocker. Entering Budds Creek, McElrath had not stood on the podium yet this year. In fact, he has only one top-five finish that came at Spring Creek two weeks ago.

McElrath got off to an early lead in Moto 1, passing then-leader Ty Masterpool on Lap 3 and refusing to look over his shoulder. It was his first moto victory since Washougal last year and there was speculation about whether he could match that performance. If anything, McElrath looked even better in Moto 2 and he cruised to a 7.7 second lead at the checkers.

McElrath may have been the only rider who was not surprised by the performance and he summed up the drastic uptick in his post-race interview.

“One word: just perseverance,” McElrath said. “It’s been a real test of our faith this year. A real test of our strength. It’s been humbling for sure. … My results this year haven’t been what we wanted, but we just kept at it.”

With a 2-5, Adam Cianciarulo finished second overall despite a disappointing second moto.

He was much better in Moto 1, but even that race had drama. Four minutes into Moto 1, Cianciarulo rode off course and high sided on a berm. He dropped from second to fifth. He climbed into third by Lap 6, but it took the entire race before he would reclaim second.

At the end of Moto 1, Cianciarulo was optimistic about his weekend.

“I’m just doing the best I can,” Cianciarulo said on NBC Sports Gold. “I just want a good result on the day and that’s how I’m looking at it, taking it moto by moto. I’m just disappointed in how I rode there at the beginning.

“Masterpool was riding really good and I just got out of my rhythm. The track’s really slick so you can’t override it – and I really was – I just wasn’t riding good. But I’m glad I was able to calm down and take a breath, make some passes back – get to where I needed to be.

“Championship aside, I really want to do the best I can every moto. … If I leave it all out there, whether I win or lose, I can go to bed at night and sleep just fine.”

Justin Cooper ended the day with a 6-2, which was good enough for third overall. It was not good enough to keep his title hopes alive, however. Ending the day 60 points behind Cianciarulo, he has been mathematically eliminated from contention.

Dylan Ferrandis is now the only rider who can challenge Cianciarulo, but he needs to make up six points in Moto 1 at Ironman Raceway next week to keep the pressure on. Like Cianciarulo, Ferrandis’ day was not without incident. In Moto 2, Mitchell Falk got turned around early in the race and knocked Ferrandis down while he was running 11th at the time – one position behind Cianciarulo.

The two points leaders were able to slice through traffic and Ferrandis eventually prevailed over his rival, but he could manage only a fourth-place finish at the checkers. With a 4-4, he finished fourth overall.

RJ Hampshire (3-8) rounded out the top five.

In Moto 1, Masterpool led his first professional laps. He paced the field five times before McElrath overtook him. Masterpool maintained a top-three spot for the next three laps. He finished seventh in that race and 11th in Moto 2 for an eighth overall.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[10] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II, WW Ranch II, RedBud I, Washougal I & II, Budds Creek I & II)
[5] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, Unadilla I & II)
[3] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch I, The Wick I, RedBud II)
[2] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek I & II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)
[1] Zach Osborne (The Wick II)

250MX
[7] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, The Wick I, Spring Creek II, Unadilla I)
[7] Dylan Ferrandis (WW Ranch II, The Wick II, RedBud I & II, Washougal I & II, Unadilla II)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[2] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I, Spring Creek I)
[2] Shane McElrath (Budds Creek I & II)
[1] Chase Sexton (WW Ranch I)

Next race: Ironman Raceway, Crawfordsville, IN, August 24

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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