NEWTON — There’s a saying that floats around pit areas at racetracks across the country: “Tires are king.”
Saturday night at Iowa Speedway, Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence, winning the Iowa Corn Indy 300 after restarting 10th with nine laps to go on fresh tires.
“What a crazy day,” Hunter-Reay said. “Michael Andretti made a pretty bold call to bring me in and take sticker (tires). …We had just enough time to make it happen.
“I was expecting the tires to be really good because we had a bunch of restarts, and you understand how the tires come in and fall off. I didn’t know how the tires would be performing on the cars in front of me on used tires, I didn’t how bad that would be. … The tire degradation is like that to make it exciting.”
It may have been exciting for the guys on new tires, but for those on old tires, it was a bit of a nightmare.
That was especially true for Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan, who led 247 laps, and other than a few challenges from Helio Castroneves and teammate Scott Dixon, dominated the race.
Andretti Autosport looked outmatched at a track they’d dominated since the IndyCar Series has been coming to Iowa Speedway with five wins in the first seven races, and Kanaan looked like he was going to break the streak he started by winning at Iowa Speedway in 2010 in his last season with the Andretti team.
The Brazilian driver has now finished on the podium in five straight Iowa Speedway races, but that was little consolation after getting bit by strategy two weeks in a row. Kanaan was forced to pit from the lead a week earlier in Houston after dominating that race as well.
“What can I say? We had a good day. We led 247 laps out of 300, I think we showed them what we had,” Kanaan said. “Sometimes strategies and gambles play out, and we got played. Fair enough. I’ve won races like that, too, and I lost it. It’s hard to take, but I think to win races we’ve got to run up front, and that’s what we’ve been doing the last three races.”
Kanaan’s despair obviously mirrored Hunter-Reay’s elation after the race, but the 2012 IndyCar champion was nearly that frustrated before the final pit stop.
He and his Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe, who finished sixth, couldn’t ever get past the back half of the top 10. Hunter-Reay said the car changed as the weather did Saturday night, especially after the 26-minute red flag for rain just 33 laps into the race.
But even though it’s easy to get upset or annoyed when you’re not running how you’d like, Hunter-Reay said drivers can’t ever take themselves out mentally because chances like the one he got can come at any moment.
“I was really frustrated at times, and I’ve learned with years of experience that I’ve had in the Verizon IndyCar Series that you just have to keep your head in it,” Hunter-Reay said. “No matter what, you still have to charge hard and be ready for it, whether it’s a street circuit or a short oval.
“Races can turn. And you have to put yourself in position every time to take advantage of that. Put yourself in a better position. Whatever it is. Just keep plugging away. We made the right call and we had the car that could take it.”
It was after an incident between Ed Carpenter and Juan Pablo Montoya put Montoya in the wall and brought out the caution that teams running in the back half of the top 10 had an easy option to pit.
Hunter-Reay, second-place finisher Josef Newgarden, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal and a few others took that option, as they weren’t going to win by staying out.
“It’s nice to get a result finally, to be honest with you. It was a little unorthodox but sometimes you’ve got to make good calls to make that happen,” Newgarden said. “I’m just really happy with the call we made. It was like a video game at the end, pretty much. It was a little unfair, almost, but it was fun.”
Though the Andretti Autosport winning streak at Iowa Speedway was extended to five straight and six out of eight overall, Hunter-Reay was clear that something was missing for the majority of Saturday night’s race.
That much was evident by Kanaan’s dominance and the Andretti cars’ relative mediocrity for the first 2/3 of the race. They’ll take the win, for sure, but Hunter-Reay said Saturday night was a wake-up call for the team as a whole.
“We’ve been historically good on short ovals, and tonight tells us we need to do a little bit of work,” Hunter-Reay said. “The record looks really good and we got a win out of it by making the right call, and I drove really hard the last few laps, but we’re going to go back and do some homework for Milwaukee.”
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