The IndyCar Series hasn't had a driver like Ryan Hunter-Reay finish at the top of the standings in a while.An American, to be exact.It's been six years since Sam Hornish Jr. won the series championship, the last U.S. driver to do so.But Hunter-Reay, a 31-year-old born in Dallas who grew up in Boca Raton, Fla., has a good shot at it with five races left.He's won the last three IndyCar Series events, overtaking former leader Will Power of Australia with a win at Toronto last week, and has a 34-point lead going into the series' next stop, in Edmonton, in two weeks.With the series in search of a face to give it an identity in the post-Danica era, maybe an American champion -- after five years of either Scotsman Dario Franchitti or Aussie Scott Dixon at the top -- would do the trick."It's not something that I focus on," Hunter-Reay said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "I'm definitely honored to be carrying the American flag at the front right now, and every time I get on the podium, I raise that thing up there because I'm proud of it."I think what hits home for me is when I was a kid, before I started racing gokarts, my dad took me to a couple of IndyCar races in Miami, and I watched the series as a fan of the sport, as a fan of the series. I was really focused on the American drivers. I don't know why that is. I was just a kid. So I didn't have any agenda or anything like that."Actually, the agenda is to stay out of trouble on the track.The championship is close now. But he must avoid that one disastrous finish that might close the gap for Power -- who like Hunter-Reay has three wins -- or Helio Castroneves, who sits in third, or Dixon, in fourth.That is the direction he is getting from his boss, Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti."I don't think Ryan should do anything different," he said. "I don't think the team should do anything different. We should just continue to do our job. If everybody does their job, we should be OK. If there's no mistakes made the rest of the year, I think we have a good shot at winning the championship."So far, only mechanical problems, at Indianapolis and TMS, have kept Hunter-Reay out of the top 12. He's won on a flat mile at Milwaukee, a short mile at Iowa and a street course at Toronto."As a team owner, that's something we liked about Ryan, that we could be competitive on all types of tracks," Andretti said. "We're looking forward to the next how many races we have. I don't think there's a weak track for him."If he can hold on, Hunter-Reay would become the seventh American champion in the IndyCar Series, joining Scott Sharp, Buzz Calkins, Tony Stewart, Greg Ray, Buddy Lazier and Hornish.He remembers what it was like to follow American drivers when he was a young fan."I liked to watch Michael, Bobby Rahal, Rick Mears, the big American guys, Al Unser Jr., the big names," he said. "I loved watching those guys.... I feel like now that I'm in IndyCar and doing well, hopefully there is some kid sitting there doing the same thing. So that's kind of cool."Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407Twitter: @calexmendez
Matt Kenseth. The only thing he didn't do last weekend was win. He led the most laps, extended his Sprint Cup points lead to 25 and gained his ninth top-5 of the season. He's got three top-3s in the last six races.
Kyle Busch. He's going to need another win to make it in the Chase, it looks like. He's 56 points out of 10th place, which is basically a race and a half.
Wild card watch: Joey Logano gained an edge in the wild-card picture with his top-five at Daytona, moving past Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne. They all have one win right now.
New chance: Jeff Burton helped himself with the runner-up finish last week at Daytona. But he's got to take momentum out of it. He was fifth at Daytona in February and followed it with a 33rd.
Chase calendar: Danica Patrick's entry into the Kansas
race in October means she's racing at five Chase stops -- Chicago, Dover, Kansas, TMS and Phoenix.
Busch streak: Kyle Busch is going for a fourth consecutive win at New Hampshire. If he can do it, it would also be his first in his own car as driver-owner.
Truex ride: Ryan Truex will drive the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs this weekend. He was second at Dover and has six top-10s in nine starts for JGR.
Camping World Truck
Milestone: Todd Bodine is two starts away from 200 in the series. It would make him the only driver with 200 starts in each of NASCAR's three national series.
Career best: Charlie Kimball's runner-up finish at Toronto last week was a career high for him.
Long time: A.J. Foyt Racing got a podium finish thanks to Mike Conway's third last week. It had been 43 races since Vitor Meira was third at Sao Paulo for the team in 2010.
Turnaround: Since failing to qualify at a Las Vegas race in April, Ron Capps has made six consecutive final rounds in Funny Car and moved from eighth to second in the point standings.
4Top-three finishes in the last five races for Tony Stewart, who's up to fifth in the point standings and will go into the Chase with nine bonus points.
"As far as accumulating more fans, just on social media stuff since the win in Chicago... it was a huge, huge increase on number of likes on our fan page on Facebook, and Twitter, we were like in the top-10 Twitter trending deals behind Jamie Foxx and BET's awards. Quite an honor and good publicity, not just for us, but for our sport of NHRA drag racing." Erica Enders, the first female winner in
NHRA Pro Stock