By Ken de la Bastide CNHI News Service
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Hunter-Reay held off Helio Castroneves to win the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
“I’m a proud American boy, that’s for sure,” Hunter-Reay said in Victory Lane before he was joined by his wife and son. “I’ve watched this race since I was sitting in diapers on the floor in front of the TV. My son did it [Sunday]. He watched me here. I’m thrilled. This is American history, this race. This is American tradition.”
Following a red flag to repair the safer barrier in turn two, Hunter-Reay led the field to a six-lap shootout chased by Castroneves and Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti. Hunter-Reay and Castroneves swapped the lead four times over the final five laps with Hunter-Reay taking the point on lap 199 with an outside pass of Castroneves on the front straight.
“This race was ridiculously close and competitive,” Hunter-Reay said. “Just glad I picked the right time to go.”
Hunter-Reay won by .060-seconds, denying Castroneves his record-tying fourth Indy 500 win. It was the second-closest finish in the race’s long and rich history — only the 1992 race had a closer finish, with Al Unser Jr. beating Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds.
The Dallas-born, Florida-raised Hunter-Reay is the first American to win the Indy 500 since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. Hunter-Reay also becomes the third winner for team owner Michael Andretti joining Dan Wheldon in 2005 and Dario Franchitti in 2007.
Hunter-Reay is a former IndyCar Series champion. Now, he’s a 500 champion.
“This is the granddaddy of them all,” he said. “This is where drivers were made and history is made. When I was a kid, I looked up to the Andrettis, Foyt, Unser, Mears. Winning this one is definitely a game-changer.”
Although he didn’t qualify well, Hunter-Reay said his team had a good car for the race. He led 12 times for 56 laps, taking the lead for the first time on lap 94, after starting 19th on the grid.
The final six laps brought tight racing.
“At the end of the day there’s stupid and bravery, and I think we were right there on the edge, both of us,” Castroneves said. “I’m glad we both come out in a good way. I’m sad it did not come out the way I wanted.”
The Brazilian Castroneves said he was happy to see an American win the race, noting the significance for the series.
Hunter-Reay led a strong Andretti Motorsports showing. The team placed four cars in the top six with Marco Andretti finishing third, followed by Carlos Munoz. Kurt Busch was the highest finishing rookie, coming home in sixth.
Juan Pablo Montoya overcame a speeding penalty on pit road in the first half of the race to come home in fifth.
Teenager Sage Karam, 19, had an impressive run from the 30th starting spot to come home in ninth.
The race went a record 150 laps without a caution. The first caution flag came when Charlie Kimball hit the turn two wall. But it waved three more times in the final 50 laps.
Two of the contenders were taken out on the restart on lap 175 when Townsend Bell, pole-sitter Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe went three-wide into turn one. Hinchcliffe rode up the track and collected Carpenter while fighting for second.
Carpenter was livid, calling out Hinchcliffe for an “amateur” move.
“The moment when Hinch decided to make it three-wide was more than any of us could handle,” Carpenter said. “I told him if he didn’t have a concussion last week I would have punched him in the face.”
Hinchcliffe, cleared to drive last weekend after suffering a concussion two weeks ago in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, accepted responsibility.
“I was the last guy on the scene,” he said. “I have to take the blame, for sure. I feel really bad for [Carpenter] because he had a great month and was doing a great job.”
Former race winner Scott Dixon, who took downforce out of the car, brought out the second caution flag on lap 168 making contact with the turn four wall.
Bell brought out the final caution flag on lap 193 when he crashed in turn two while running sixth. Speedway officials threw the red flag to make repairs to the safer barrier — and the stage was set for the thrilling finish.
Defending race winner Tony Kanaan worked his way to the front from the 16th starting spot ran out of fuel before his second pit stop on lap 64 and while on pit road stripped the gears in the starter, ending his bid for the victory.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.