June 6, 2014

Shaking Indy 500 hangover is Hunter-Reay’s Texas task

Ryan Hunter-Reay comes to Texas Motor Speedway after a rough go last weekend in the post-Indy 500 glow.

Tony Kanaan is well aware of what Ryan Hunter-Reay is going through. Kanaan went through the same thing last year.

There are significant time demands placed immediately upon the winner of the prestigious Indianapolis 500. From an appearance on David Letterman’s show to a visit with the Texas media, much is expected from the driver.

And sometimes it catches up the following race. It happened to Kanaan, and it has now happened to Hunter-Reay. Kanaan finished 13th and 12th during the two-day, two-race event in Detroit the next week, and Hunter-Reay had similar struggles last weekend, coming in 16th and 19th.

“It’s tough,” Kanaan said. “I remember when I got to Detroit, I was extremely exhausted. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence or not with what happened to Ryan, but it’s an extremely busy week, and then you have back-to-back races.”

As Kanaan said, though, “I’d do it all over again. That’s a problem we’d all like to have.”

Hunter-Reay downplayed the notion that the hectic week factored into his poor runs during the two street races last weekend in the Chevrolet Indy Duals at Detroit.

“It’s just … had a bad week in Detroit,” Hunter-Reay said.

But Hunter-Reay hopes to return to form in Saturday night’s Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. He finished second last year but knows he’ll have work to do after qualifying 12th.

Will Power will be the pole-sitter, with Josef Newgarden, Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ed Carpenter rounding out the top five. Defending champion Helio Castroneves is starting 14th.

Attention, though, will remain on the reigning Indy 500 winner.

It’s been that way for the past two weeks and likely won’t change soon. After all, being an Indy 500 winner is similar to a golfer who wins the Masters — it’s a prominent label to carry.

“I had an idea of what to expect, but it’s been amazing to live through it all,” Hunter-Reay said. “There’s nothing like feeling it in reality, and it’s been a great experience. And it still goes on. All that stuff lasts forever.”

So has it all sunk in yet?

“It’s starting to,” he said. “But I haven’t had a moment to sit down at home yet. Until I get that opportunity, that’s when it’ll probably really start sinking in.”

The demanding schedule in the aftermath of his career-defining win is part of the reason Hunter-Reay isn’t overly concerned about one bad week. Other drivers have done the same thing.

As mentioned, Kanaan had a similar experience. Castroneves won the most recent of his three Indianapolis 500 titles in 2009 and finished 11th the next race.

“It’s difficult to have a particular explanation,” Castroneves said. “You do have an awful lot with media appearances but … it’s just racing gods. You can’t explain it. They’re the ones that are going to explain what is going to happen or not.”

Hunter-Reay is another week removed from it, and Texas provides him a track that he’s familiar with. He had mixed results on it until his second-place run last year.

This year’s race is expected to be different than last year’s, however. Last year, the drivers had less downforce, which kept them more spread out on the track. This year, IndyCar is allowing drivers to have extra downforce, essentially making it like a restrictor plate race, which should help tighten the field significantly.

Most drivers felt that decision made sense, but the effects won’t be known until the green flag drops.

“It’s tough to say right now,” Hunter-Reay said. “People predict no passing in a race and all of a sudden it’s a pass fest.

“But I do think it’s going to be a good show.”

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