Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay received the ESPY Award as Best Driver during the 21st annual event July 17 at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.

It is the first ESPY Award presented to an Indy car driver since Jimmy Vasser, current co-owner of KV Racing Technology, in 1997. It was the first ESPY nomination for Hunter-Reay, 32, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan, Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski also were nominees in the category that was determined by online voting.

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"I can't thank you all enough for your votes and support," said Hunter-Reay, who secured the 2012 title in the season finale in a Andretti Autosport car to become the first American to win the series championship since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.

Through 12 of 19 races this season, Hunter-Reay is third in the championship standings with two victories and six other top-five finishes in the Chevrolet-powered No. 1 DHL car.

The awards show, which celebrates the year's best athletes and moments in sports, was hosted by "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm. Robin Roberts, won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given to an individual whose contributions transcend sports.

Kanaan, the 2004 series champion, won the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in his 12th start on the historic oval.

Three consecutive victories in June and July tossed Hunter-Reay into championship contention, and a fourth victory at Baltimore set up the title showdown with Team Penske’s Will Power in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway.

He finished fourth in the 500-mile race on the 2-mile oval to clinch the championship by a scant three points. It was the seventh consecutive year that the IZOD IndyCar Series title was determined in the finale, and the margin was the closest since ’06 when Hornish won on a tiebreaker.

“I’ve always believed that if I got the right opportunity and worked hard enough that I could be in this position or I could be in the position to win races,” Hunter-Reay said in Victory Circle. “But then you go from winning races to competing for a championship, and that comes with another level of consistency.

“That comes from the continuity and a team that believes in you. You build on that year after year.”

Hunter-Reay was the series Rookie of the Year in 2007, running a limited schedule for then-Rahal Letterman Racing. He finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500 and won at Watkins Glen International on Independence Day weekend the next year.

He competed for Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing in the 2009 season, and he joined Andretti Autosport for the 2010 season (one victory, six top-five finishes). Hunter-Reay also recorded a win in 2011 and repeated his 2010 seventh place in the championship standings.

“This is what racing is all about, what sports are about,” said Hunter-Reay, basking in the glow of the TV lights after winning the title. “I feel like I’m up against the best in the world. It’s just amazing to get it done.”