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Ryan Hunter-Reay wins IndyCar race at NHMS

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff  August 14, 2011 11:03 PM

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Chris Jones/IndyCar.com

Ryan Hunter-Reay is all smiles after controversial finish does nothing to put damper on his victory Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

LOUDON, N.H. -- Nothing was going to rain on Ryan Hunter-Reay's parade.

Not controversy. Not chaos. Not even confusion about who should have finished where was going to put a damper on Hunter-Reay's victory in Sunday's MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which hosted its first Izod IndyCar Series race in 13 years.

And what a whopper it ended up being.

The controversy stemmed from the admitted wrong-headed decision by Brian Barnhart, IndyCar's president of competition operations, to bunch up the lead cars at the front of the field for a double-file restart two laps after the race had been slowed by the sixth and final caution of the day for track moisture on Lap 215.

Chaos ensued when the field came screaming out of Turn 4 to take the green flag and Danica Patrick spun in heavy traffic, triggering a multi-car crash that took out Takuma Sato, Ana Beatriz, Ed Carpenter, and Will Power, who was poised to gain some considerable ground on series points leader Dario Franchitti, the race pole sitter who crashed when he was taken out by Sato on the frontstretch of a restart on Lap 118.

Confusion then reigned when the race was stopped on Lap 220, then red-flagged, then called with the finishing order reverting back to the running order before the last caution, making Hunter-Reay, who was leading at the time, the race winner and Oriol Servia, who felt he had won the race, the runner-up and Scott Dixon, who felt he should have finished second, in third place.

"We never should have gone green,'' said Hunter-Reay. ``And I got those guys [Servia and Dixon] by a straightaway the last two restarts before that. So I'm not really sure if they were grasping for straws at that point.

''The issue is what was race control thinking when they went green in the first place?''

While he was angrily criticized, most notably by Power, who made an obscene gesture at race control as he stomped down the pits toward the garage, Barnhart took full responsibility for putting the drivers at risk when he was attempting to beat the rain by giving the estimated crowd of 30,000 a green-flag finish.

"When you're responsible for the safety of those 26 drivers out there, every time you go and give them a track condition, they're counting on you to make the right decision,'' Barnhart said. "Obviously towards the end of the race, with the attempted restart, we made the wrong one. And that's one of those things that just makes you feel sick to your stomach, when you do it, because you know after the fact, of course, you chose poorly.''

Dixon, for his part, felt IndyCar offiicials did their best to get the race in, given the inclement weather that was looming, prompting the start of the race to be moved up a half hour to 3:35.

"I was a bit worried I think around Lap 80, whenever we had the first caution [for moisture],'' said Dixon, winner of last weekend's race at Mid-Ohio. ``Because it felt like they were speeding the pace car up and we were just going to run to Lap 113 and call it a day. I was glad to see they got the blowers out and tried to get the track ready and obviously the rain stopped.

''That's what fans come to see,'' Dixon said. "They come to see racing.''

Servia, for his part, thought he was racing for the lead when he passed Hunter-Reay on the frontstretch just before the final yellow came out.

"I actually won the race,'' Servia claimed. "They went green and I was leading when the yellow came. They even called it in race control: Car 2 was the leader. He had second. He had a bad restart. I don't know what Ryan was doing.''

Said Hunter-Reay: "I really didn't know what was going on. As I hit the gas and wheels were spinning, I heard in my ears, `They're wrecking behind you! They're wrecking behind you! Caution!' before I even got to the start/finish line.''

It resulted in a controversial finish for Hunter-Reay, who captured his first IndyCar Series triumph of the season and fifth overall of his career.

"I don't feel like I have to validate that we won it,'' Hunter-Reay said. "I feel the issue with Dario and Sato getting together is a bigger story line than Servia in the rain, on an oval, leading 20 feet, or so he thinks.

"I don't think that's an issue.''

What was, however, was Barnhart's handling of the last restart.

"When they go red with five laps to go, they've got a pretty strong intention of probably going green again,'' Hunter-Reay said. "Because we're five laps from the end. It's pretty easy to parade for a couple of more laps and go checkered.

"I would have loved to have gone back racing if it was dry,'' Hunter-Reay said. "But we can't race the race on an oval in rain, unfortunately.''

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