Chants of “USA, USA” from the hundreds of thousands of spectators rose from the cavernous Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and likely among TV viewers across America – as Ryan Hunter-Reay took the slowest lap of the day.
The 32-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident, draped in an American flag, saluted the fans as he circled the 2.5-mile oval on his victory lap in the Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Pace Car. “Thank you; hope you enjoyed the show. I sure did. I'm proud to be an American and win this race,” Hunter-Reay said as he soaked in the surreal scene.
Hunter-Reay was denied a shot at a final-lap victory in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race because of a yellow flag for a single-car incident in Turn 1. Third place was a career high in "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," but he felt cheated.
Click it: Indianapolis 500 Mile Race box score || Historical field notes
A similar situation materialized in the 98th edition, and this time Hunter-Reay was the one drinking the milk in Victory Circle.
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 six-lap shootout to claim his first Indy 500 victory. Hunter-Reay’s teammate, Marco Andretti, finished .3171 of a second back for his third third-place finish in nine starts.
"It's a dream come true," said Hunter-Reay, who is the first American winner since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. "This (race) is American history. It's where drivers are made; where history is made. I hope the fans loved it because I was on the edge of my seat. The Verizon IndyCar Series, with superspeedways, short ovals, road and street courses is a true drivers championship, which is what I love about it."
There were 34 lead changes among 11 drivers in the fast-paced 200 laps (186.563 mph average; second-fastest in history), with Hunter-Reay regaining the point from Castroneves for good by a scant .0235 of a second at the end of Lap 199. Hunter-Reay, earning the 50th Verizon IndyCar Series win for Andretti Autosport and his 10th with the team, recorded a 220.927 mph final lap to Castroneves’ 220.729 mph, which essentially was the difference in the battle between drivers, teams and Honda and Chevrolet.
“It’s interesting when second place kind of sucks,” said Castroneves, who started fourth in the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Team Penske car. “What a fight. But certainly taking the positive out of this, it was a great race. I did everything I could obviously to try to stop (Hunter-Reay). I do not take (the result) for granted. I'm extremely happy with the result.
“We were able to put ourselves in a great position to win. Unfortunately, as I said, it wasn't our day. It was great to see an American driver winning.”
Carlos Munoz, who finished second last year as a rookie, finished fourth and 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya was fifth. Kurt Busch, who had 600 more miles of racing left on the day in the NASCAR event North Carolina, placed sixth in his first 500 Mile Race. Both drove for Andretti Autosport. Its fifth driver, James Hinchcliffe, who started second and led early, was involved in a Turn 1 incident with pole sitter Ed Carpenter on a Lap 176 restart.
The shootout was set up when INDYCAR officials red-flagged the race on Lap 192 for seven minutes for crews to fix the Turn 2 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 -- 1.8 seconds behind Hunter-Reay.
Hunter-Reay and Castroneves alternated as the front-runner through Lap 199 – Hunter-Reay leading by only .0196 of a second at the line on Lap 198. The closest margin of victory was .043 of a second by Al Unser Jr. over Scott Goodyear, who was an analyst in the ABC booth on this day, in 1992.
Sebastien Bourdais, driving the KVSH Racing car that won the “500” last year with Tony Kanaan, placed a career-best seventh in the 500 Mile Race and Will Power finished eighth. Power, who started on the outside of Row 1 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, was issued a drive-through penalty for a pit speed violation on Lap 128 as he exited while running second to Montoya.
With double points awarded for the three 500-mile races this season – the Indy 500, Pocono Raceway on July 6 and Auto Club Speedway on Aug. 30 – Hunter-Reay took the championship lead over Power, 274-234. Hunter-Reay entered the race trailing by one point.
Sage Karam, the 19-year-old rookie from Nazareth, Pa., finished ninth in the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold-Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi car. JR Hildebrand, who was the race runner-up as a rookie in 2011, placed 10th.
“The (car) was stable all day and I was able to come from the back and get a top 10. I will take it,” said Karam, whose 22 positions gained relative to his starting spot was a field high. “150 laps straight of green-flag racing takes a toll on you. My foot even hurts from the vibrations of keeping it flat for so long. Now I know why they say this is the hardest race to win in the world.”
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 2. The record to start the race had been 65 laps in 2000.
Graham Rahal was the first to retire from the race with an electrical issue in the No. 15 entry. Kanaan developed an early suspension issue and finished 26th. ABC will televise both rounds of the Chevrolet Detroit Bell Isle Grand Prix on May 31 and June 1 -- both races at 3:30 p.m. (ET).
Click to download the hi-res Infographic