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.
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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, 817-390-7407