NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — Ryan Hunter-Reay buried his post-Indianapolis 500 slump with a set of fresh tires that pumped new life into his title hopes.
Hunter-Reay blew past the field with two laps to go and won the IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway on Saturday for his first victory since May.
Hunter-Reay hadn’t led a lap since his victory in Indianapolis, and he spent most of the Iowa race far from contention. But he got new tires on a late pit stop and stormed past Tony Kanaan for his third victory in 2014. Kanaan led 247 of the 300 laps at Iowa’s .875-mile oval.
“That was crazy. We took the tires as a big gamble,” said Hunter-Reay, who jumped from fifth to third in the IndyCar standings by passing nine cars in nine laps. “That was fun. It was like a video game at the end. We had a tough day, but you have to keep your head in it.”
Josef Newgarden finished second, followed by Target Chip Ganassi teammates Kanaan and Scott Dixon. Ed Carpenter was fifth.
Helio Castroneves finished eighth, taking sole possession of the series points lead.
Kanaan started on the front row with Dixon, the pole sitter, following promising qualifying sessions for a team that has struggled all year.
Down the stretch, the only question seemed to be which of the Ganassi drivers would give the team its first win of 2014.
No one saw Hunter-Reay coming.
He stopped a miserable six-race stretch without a top-five finish and gave Andretti Autosport its fifth straight win in Iowa.
It also was the second win in three years here for Hunter-Reay, who followed owner Michael Andretti’s advice to take fresh tires even though such a move could have been too time-consuming to risk.
“It was just like warp speed. Cars are just flying by, one after the other,” Hunter-Reay said. “At first you see 10 cars in front of you. Then you see eight. Then you see four. Then you see Tony.”
Kanaan had to settle for a fifth straight podium finish at Iowa, even though he had the dominant car of the weekend.
Though Kanaan faded on old tires, he heads to next week’s races in Toronto with as much momentum as he’s had in his first season with Ganassi.
“What can I say? We had a good day,” Kanaan said. “To lead 247 laps out of 300, I think we showed them what we had. At the end, sometimes strategies and gambles play out. We dominated the last two races. For one reason or another, we didn’t win.”
Once again, Team Penske walked away from Iowa’s bull ring empty-handed.
Penske entered the weekend with three of the series’ top four drivers; Castroneves, co-leader Will Power and the surging Juan Pablo Montoya. But Penske had struck out in each of its previous seven trips to Iowa — and Power (ninth) and Montoya (19th) started from less than optimal positions.
Power finished 14th. Montoya slammed into a wall after an incident with Carpenter, failing to finish a race for the first time this season.
IndyCar reviewed the sequence and took no action, but Carpenter apologized after dooming Montoya to a 16th-place finish.
“My spotter was trying to tell me he was there but it was too late,” Carpenter said. “I definitely wouldn’t appreciate that if I was on the other end of it. But at the same time it wasn’t intentional.”
The start of the race was moved up 30 minutes to avoid storms that peppered much of Iowa on Saturday night, but it was red-flagged after just 39 laps because of light rain. It was the first time that rain forced a red flag at an IndyCar race since Sao Paulo in 2011.