The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

July 3, 2014

Motorsports: Hunter-Reay looks for redemption at Pocono

LONG POND — Following a rough three-week stretch after winning his first-ever Indy 500, Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay is ready to tackle the Tricky Triangle on Sunday.

“I love Pocono and I have some unfinished business there,” he said.

Hunter-Reay had a solid top-three run going when a pit road accident left him with a 22nd-place finish last year as IndyCar made its return to the speedway for the first time in more than 20 years.

“Pocono is a track the fits Indy car racing as it stands right now,” he said. “It’s a market that we need to be in.”

Sunday’s Pocono 500 marks the halfway point of the 2014 IndyCar season and there have been seven different winners in 10 races.

All four Rookie of the Year candidates have scored a podium finish while four drivers have won from 17th or worse.

This year, the race has been lengthened by 100 miles and is slated for a 1 p.m. start.

If Hunter-Reay can find consistency over the next eight weeks it can go a long way in winning him a second IndyCar title in the last three years.

“Coming off the heels of the Indy 500 win, I am pretty confident in the oval package on the super speedways,” he said. “We had a good test at Pocono. One thing is for sure: it  will be a hard-fought race.”

Pocono is just the third oval race of the year on an 18-race scheduled that is heavily laden with road and street courses.

“There needs to be more ovals on the schedule, but it has to make business sense,” he said. “Anywhere we go, we put on a great show. I am the biggest cheerleader to add more ovals to balance out our schedule.”

Sunday’s race is the second leg of the Triple Crown and Hunter-Reay is looking to become the first driver to win Indy car racing’s Triple Crown since 1978 when Al Unser won the Indianapolis 500, the Schaefer 500 at Pocono Raceway and the California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway in the same year.

“Pocono is very critical to the championship points,” he said. “There’s a lot riding on every weekend and you can have huge swings in the championship standings.”

Hunter-Reay is third in the point standings, 45 behind leader Will Power and two points behind Helio Castroneves in second as the top-10 drives in the series are separated by 175 points.

With no down time since Indy, Hunter-Reay said he has not had the time to watch a full replay of his victory.

“For the sport itself, the finish, that was the biggest part for me,” he said of winning his first-ever 500. “We came out of Indy with a pretty strong points lead. Left Texas looking like we were a little too far out of first. But we’ve done a good job at Houston to close that gap a little bit. Certainly closed up on Helio. We’ve got a string of races here coming that could really play a huge part in the championship fight.”

Hunter-Reay finished 19th in the second street course race at Detroit and was in position for a top-10 finish in race one when he made contact with the Turn 7 tire barrier on the final lap. Mechanical issues saw him finish 19th after running as high as fifth at Texas.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher to win any IndyCar race just because of how balanced the teams are,” he said. “The driving talent in the series is arguably the toughest it’s ever been. There are no real weak spots. Everybody can challenge for a win on a road course or oval.”

Hunter-Reay finished seventh and sixth respectively last weekend in Houston on the street course

“Pocono is a very tough track, especially in Turn 3,” he said. “It has low grip and it is not easy to follow another car as it is in Indy. It’s hard to pass and you have to have the car balanced well to work properly in Turn 1 and Turn 3.”

Nazareth’s Marco Andretti dominated last year’s race, leading for 88 laps, but it turned into a fuel-mileage race that was won by Scott Dixon.

Andretti finished 10th after winning the pole for the race last year. He has six top 10s and two top-five finishes this season and comes into Sunday’s race sixth in points.

Ed Carpenter is the only other oval winner this year as he claimed the win at Texas.

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