BY DEAN HOCKNEY
INDIANAPOLIS – For a record 149 laps, cars raced around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway unimpeded and in an orderly manner. But once the first yellow flag fell on lap 150, the 48th Running of the Indianapolis 500 became exciting – complete with a NASCAR-style red flag with nine laps left to give fans a classic finish.
One year removed from missing out on a shot at an Indy 500 win due to a late yellow flag, Ryan Hunter-Reay crossed the Yard of Bricks a mere 6/100th of a second ahead of a hard charging Helio Castroneves to earn his first drink of milk in the IMS victory circle. In the process, the Florida native became the first American to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006 – a seven-year dry spell for Team USA.
"It's a dream come true man. I can't even believe it,” said Hunter-Reay. “This is just the most fantastic team for what they've given me. My dream has come true today and I'm a proud American boy, that's for sure.”
Hunter-Reay, driving the No. 28 DHL car for Andretti Autosport, held off three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves by a hair-raising .0600 of a second – the second-closest margin of victory in the history of the event – in a five-lap shootout to claim victory. Marco Andretti finished .3171 of a second back for his third third-place finish in nine starts.
“We never really ran those lines at all the whole month and that was all new,” said Hunter-Reay on his battle with Castroneves. “Everything everybody was doing at the end was all new. I didn't know if we had what it took but I've got the best team behind me. Nobody can stand on their own without a good team behind them."
Hunter-Reay started 19th and roared to the front early in the race, claiming his first lead at lap 100. Altogether, there were 34 lead changes among 11 drivers. Following the red flag, the first at Indy for a crash in 50 years, Hunter-Reay led lap 195, Castroneves gained control on the next lap only to lose it back to Hunter-Reay on laps 197 and 198. Castroneves grabbed the reins again, only to lose it coming off the fourth turn as both drivers approached the white flag (.0235 second lead at the white flag for RHR). Castroneves made a late move coming down the final front stretch, but Hunter-Reay held him off by a little more than a car length.
"I did everything I could do," said Castroneves, driving the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Team Penske car. “It's interesting when second place kind of sucks. But certainly taking the positive out of this, it was a great race. I think you guys had a good time. Second thing, congrats to Andretti Autosport. Ryan Hunter-Reay, great race. He did everything he could. I did everything I could obviously to try to stop him. Definitely unbelievable.”
Marco Andretti finished .3171 of a second back for his third third-place finish in nine starts. After the race, Andretti said he was almost taken out by the race winner.
"Yeah, I mean, close but we never really dominated. You could say that Ryan and Helio did. The only way we had a shot is if those two got together. They were putting so many blocks on me that there was nothing I could do. Every time we got to the front, we got shuffled back,” said Andretti. “I think we did what we could, but congrats to Ryan, he almost took me out in Turn 3 -- I almost crashed. I think if it wasn't for the Indy 500, I was going to be pretty mad at Ryan, but it is for the Indy 500 and he's up there and I'm not. This is as competitive as IndyCar has ever been. I don't care what anyone has to say.”
Carlos Munoz, who finished second last year as a rookie, finished fourth driving for Andretti.
"I think we were missing a little bit of speed,” said Munoz. “I tried to give everything down on the track. I pushed hard. I'm really happy for the team. They won the 500 - first, third, and fourth. It's a great result for the team.”
2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya was fifth after his run through NASCAR, and current NASCAR superstar Kurt Busch placed sixth in his first Indy car race. Busch left the track by helicopter and raced in the Coca-Cola 600.
Race officials red-flagged the race on Lap 192 for seven minutes to fix the turn two SAFER Barrier and clean up from the single-car incident involving Townsend Bell's No. 6 Robert Graham KV Racing Technology entry. Bell had been running fifth, less than two seconds behind the race winner.
Pole-sitter and Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter’s day ended when he was sandwiched between Bell and James Hinchcliffe in turn one on lap 176. He was running in the top four at the time.
"Hinch tried to make three wide in turn one with 25 laps to go. Not a smart move,” said Carpenter. “It wrecked both of our races. I told him if he didn't have a concussion last week that I would have punched him in the face. It wasn't a green-white-checkered situation. Of all of the guys out there, I wouldn't have thought it would be Hinch. I am pretty good friends with him and those guys at Andretti. I think he just didn't use his head right then.”
“Partially my fault; partially Townsend's fault; 100 percent not Ed's fault,” said Hinchcliffe. “I saw Townsend come down into Ed, who came down into me. I was the last guy there, so I have to take a portion of the blame for sure. I feel bad for Ed.”
The first caution flag flew on Lap 150 when the No. 83 car driven by Charlie Kimball made light contact with the SAFER Barrier in turn two. The record for longest stretch before a first yellow flag had previously been set at 65 laps in 2000. The four yellow flags tied the record for fewest (1990).
Graham Rahal was the first to retire from the race with an electrical issue in the No. 15 entry. Tony Kanaan, who won the race in 2013, developed an early suspension issue and finished 26th.
The Verizon IndyCar Series contributed to this story