BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Ryan Hunter-Reay deftly guided his car around the rain-soaked track, stayed out of trouble and wound up with a much happier ending.
Hunter-Reay coasted to his second straight victory at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday when the rain-shortened IndyCar race finished under caution, with Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti behind him.
The win came two weeks after Hunter-Reay touched off what turned into a seven-car pileup with an ill-timed attempt to pass Josef Newgarden at Long Beach to end what had been a dominating performance.
“The week after Long Beach was a pretty long one,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was one where I just wanted to get back in a racecar as soon as I could.
“We knew it would be tough here. When it came to race time, I had the car in the wet, I had the car in the dry. They gave me exactly what I needed. I knew it was going to be close to make it all work out because it was so easy to make a mistake today. Just thrilled. This victory feels real good.”
A full-course caution came out for the final seven minutes of the timed race after rookie Mikhail Aleshin lost control and went off the track. That left Hunter-Reay unchallenged.
Scott Dixon was third, followed by Simon Pagenaud and pole-sitter Will Power, a two-time winner at Barber who had a slight but costly misjudgment on a slippery track in the tight Turn 5.
“He was out there cutting the grass,” Hunter-Reay said. “I had to take advantage of that. It was so easy to do that today. I almost lost this race three times.”
There was some slipping and sliding, especially in the minutes after the field switched from the wet tires with several drivers leaving the track.
He passed Power on lap 16 when the Australian left the track and skirted by the tire barrier before pulling back on.
“I kept creeping my braking point a little bit further and further, and I went too far,” Power said. “It’s tough to not push past the limits with wet patches everywhere. We really didn’t have the pace in the dry anyway, but that sure didn’t help our cause when I went off course.”
The turn is called “Charlotte’s Web” because of a huge spider sculpture stationed there.
“I almost threw it away three or four times there myself,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was just tiptoeing around. It was a very fine line between getting it all right or getting it all wrong.
“Any guy that’s been in an IndyCar on the Web will tell you that’s how it is. You’ve got to go up the risk side to the get the reward out of it, but it’s really easy to throw it all away.”
It’s the 12th career win for Hunter-Reay, who was alone up front during the caution until Andretti pulled even at the finish line to savor the moment with his teammate. He led three times for a total of 40 laps.
“They’ve given us great cars here, and a second win in a row for Ryan is awesome,” said Andretti, whose radio worked only sporadically down the stretch.
Dixon said running a time race was “kind of annoying” and Andretti said it removed some strategy from the formula. They wound up going 69 laps, and Hunter-Reay was up front for the final time starting on No. 52.
“The race should be the full distance,” Dixon said. “To have to shorten these races for TV, you know, I understand the difficult predicament that everybody is in, but these are championship races. They all pay the same amount of points.
“You decide to take 30 laps off them … I think it changes strategy a lot and you’re constantly chasing that window. Then ultimately you finish on a caution, too, which is also a bit of a bummer for the fans. In the future, hopefully we can find a way around that.”
Drivers were focused on handling the track conditions, not payback from any lingering anger over Long Beach clashes.
It ended badly for Aleshin, who walked back to pit road while the rest of the field finished. Earlier Sebastien Bourdais had spun the Russian from behind, leaving him stalled. Bourdais received a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.
The race was a change-up for Dixon, who finished second in each of the first four races at Barber.
“We went the wrong way, but it was an interesting day,” Dixon said. “Whenever you have a rain delay it sort of puts a strain on everybody trying to figure out what we need to do.
“The cars were pretty good. The track suits wet conditions. There were a few troublesome areas with standing water and a few of the guys found those spots. But generally the race went fairly smoothly.”
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