Ryan Hunter-Reay might have discovered the perfect resting spot for the 97-foot scoring pylon recently removed from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’ll put in the front yard,” he said, laughing.
The Indianapolis 500 champion has good reason to want the towering keepsake: His No. 28 was the last number to ever light up the 20-year-old board from the P1 spot following his win earlier this year.
Hunter-Reay might find it easier to add something else to his trophy case instead.
He used a pair of top-10 finishes at the Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader to straighten out a season that had swooned following his Indy triumph. A 19th-place finish at Texas. Finishes of 16th and 19th in dual races in Detroit.
“(We) left Texas looking like we were a little too far out of first,” Hunter-Reay said.
Not anymore. Hunter-Reay’s seventh and sixth at Houston showed his previous three races may have been aberrations rather than a sign of a permanent spiral.
“Sunday at Houston was a win for us,” Hunter-Reay said. “We should have probably finished 18th, 19th, 20th, and we ended up with a sixth.”
He enters Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway third in the championship standings, only two points behind Helio Castroneves and 41 points behind series leader Will Power. The 500-mile race is worth double points, meaning a win or top-10 finish could vault him up the standings.
With another doubleheader ahead in Toronto, Hunter-Reay seems poised to make a serious run at a second series championship.
“Maybe we should make the whole series double points at this point,” Hunter-Reay said.
Wishful thinking, for now.
Hunter-Reay has been so focused on the next race, he hasn’t had much time to reflect on the Indianapolis 500 victory.
“I look forward to looking back on it, watching the whole race,” he said. “I haven’t even had time to watch the race again and kind of relive it.”
Hunter-Reay is the only driver who can win the open-wheel series’ Triple Crown. Pocono and Fontana join the Indianapolis 500 as the three races that use three-wide starts, run 500 miles and award double points. Unlike last season, there is no title sponsor or $1 million prize for a three-race sweep.
IndyCar ran a Triple Crown at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario from 1971-1980 and from 1981-1989 at Indy, Pocono and Michigan. Only Al Unser won all three races in a single season, in 1978.
Pocono returned in 2013 to the IndyCar Series schedule after a 24-year absence. The raceway is in teammate Marco Andretti’s backyard and Andretti Autosport expected to have the home track advantage, though it didn’t help last year when the team had the front row locked up for the start.
It failed to translate into a podium finish when Hunter-Reay, James Hinchliffe and Marco Andretti all were knocked out of contention with various mishaps. Hunter-Reay was forced to the garage and finished 20th.
Hunter-Reay hopes for a better result this weekend, and for a resolution on his contract status soon. The free agent may never test the open market if he can reach a deal with Andretti Autosport.
“It’s actually not stressful just because things are in agreement, things are heading in the right direction,” Hunter-Reay said. “While we don’t have a contract yet, I think it’s all heading in the right direction. Thankfully, it’s not a stressful situation. I can concentrate on what really matters, and that’s winning the championship this year.”