Indy 500 champ recounts ‘the fight that went down’

Posted Wednesday, May. 28, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Going for two: Now that he’s gotten his first win of the season, it’s not a stretch to think Jimmie Johnson might soon join the ranks of the two-time winners. He has won eight times in 11 years at Dover, this week’s stop, and three times each at Pocono, Daytona and Loudon and four times at Indianapolis — all tracks the series visits in the next two months.

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They said it

“That No. 3 yellow Pennzoil car was really quick. I knew that our 28 DHL Honda was the only match for it out there.” — Ryan Hunter-Reay, on beating Helio Castroneves at the Indy 500 last week

“They know we are awake.” — Jimmie Johnson, after his first win of the season.

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As is tradition, the Indianapolis 500 champ came to Texas to talk about his victory. There is hardly anything Ryan Hunter-Reay could enjoy doing more right now.

“It was just fantastic. I will forever remember the fight that went down,” he told a lunchtime group of fans at Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant in north Fort Worth, capturing their attention with the details of his six-lap duel to the finish with three-time Indy champ Helio Castroneves. “My favorite memory of the whole thing was that we had to fight that hard to win it.”

Hunter-Reay, in town as a guest of Texas Motor Speedway to promote the Firestone 600 on June 7, spelled out the details of the pass on the approach to the white-flag lap that gave him the lead and allowed him to beat Castroneves to the line.

“There was no master plan at the end, when we were sitting there at the end — ‘What do I need to do? Where do I need to be? Do I need to be leading? Do I need to be following on the last lap? What do I want to do?’ It was just get to the front, stay there, do whatever you can to make it as hard as you can on the guy you’re racing.”

Castroneves had taken the lead from Hunter-Reay just three turns earlier.

“I did everything I could do,” Castroneves said. “What a fight.”

Hunter-Reay’s pass for the lead required a setup at 230 mph, with the cars streaking out ahead of everyone, nearly nose to tail.

“I remember coming up behind him,” Hunter-Reay said. “I had a big draft, we’re coming to the white flag, into Turn 3, and I thought, there’s a half-a-car width down there. And each time that I had broken to the outside, he saw me in his mirror and he’d end up inching out. So I showed him a nose high. That was all he needed to start creeping to the right, and I faked to the right, went to the left and just fit it in there and got the pass done.

“It was really tough. But like I said, wouldn’t have it any other way. That was an amazing fight.”

Hunter-Reay’s win by six-hundredths of a second was the second-closest in the 98-race history of the Indy 500.

The Dallas-born driver, named an honorary citizen of Fort Worth at the luncheon, joined racing immortality with the victory in a race to be long remembered.

And not just for the winner.

“I really want to tip my hat to Helio,” Hunter-Reay said. “We raced each other so hard. We wanted that win so badly. He’s won three of them. He was going for his fourth. He raced us clean. It took a great driver on the other side as well to put on a show like that.

“And never touched. We’re going wheel-to-wheel, inches apart, at 230 miles an hour. Making things happen that we probably shouldn’t. On the verge between stupidity and bravery, and there we were, dancing that fine line in the middle.

“And it was just fantastic.”

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @calexmendez

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