FORT WORTH — Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay says that he and runner-up Helio Castroneves were “making things happen that we probably shouldn’t” during their epic showdown at the end of Sunday’s race.
The pair traded the lead several times in the closing laps, with Hunter-Reay nearly clipping the grass in Turn 3 on one pass and taking the lead for good into Turn 1 with the white flag in their mirrors.
“That’s my favorite memory of the whole thing,” Hunter-Reay said Wednesday during Fort Worth’s annual Indy 500 champion’s luncheon. “That we had to fight that hard to win it.”
During his visit with Dallas-Fort Worth media members and Texas Motor Speedway season ticket holders, Hunter-Reay received a silver cowboy boot from Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem W.B. Zimmerman. He also fired a pair of ceremonial pistols — practice in case he wins the Firestone 600K on June 7 and gets to repeat the action in Victory Lane.
“I haven’t won at Texas Motor Speedway yet,” Hunter-Reay said. “I definitely, desperately want to do that.”
The driver from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said he’s heard TMS winners fire their shots in the air as he headed out after another loss.
“It’s like salt on the wounds,” he said.
Hunter-Reay has made seven Verizon IndyCar Series starts in Denton County, with three top-10s and a best finish of second last year. Castroneves won that race, which measured 550 kilometers.
“We’ve extended the race,” Hunter-Reay said. “Play the cards the same way, I’ll just pass Helio there on the last lap and make for another exciting finish.”
TMS president Eddie Gossage said series officials also modified the cars for this year’s Fort Worth race in an effort to keep them grouped a little closer.
“They’ve changed the aero package to create a better opportunity for passing,” Gossage said. “Nobody can pull away from each other.”
Gossage said TMS fans have almost always been treated to “hold-your-breath” Indy car races, but Castroneves won last year by more than four seconds.
“Those cars for so long and our track have just been a perfect match,” he said. “What we saw last year isn’t what we want and isn’t typical of Indy car racing.”
As for Hunter-Reay, Gossage isn’t content to let Florida claim the series points leader.
“He’s got a Texas birth certificate, so he’s ours,” Gossage said.
Hunter-Reay’s victory was the first by an American at Indy since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006, creating some extra buzz for the series. Gossage said he learned Wednesday morning that the Firestone 600K telecast has been moved from CNBC to NBC Sports Network.
“This is a good move for our sport,” Gossage said.
After recapping his good moves from Indy, Hunter-Reay was asked if his wife lets him drive their personal cars. He replied that she doesn’t have a problem with his driving because she comes from a racing family.
“Her brother’s Robby Gordon,” Hunter-Reay said. “He’s a nut.”
MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906.