Hunter-Reay victorious in Milwaukee in 2012

IZOD IndyCar Series champions have their linchpin races – a result that was a spring to their season-long accomplishment. Reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay singles out the Milwaukee IndyFest.

The victory and bonus point for leading the most laps in the eighth race of the season vaulted the Andretti Autosport driver from seventh in the standings following the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway to fourth.

“It was an important win for so many reasons,” said Hunter-Reay, who led Tony Kanaan across the start-finish line by 5.1029 seconds on the one-mile oval.

Hunter-Reay gained additional traction with successive victories at Iowa Speedway and Toronto, and added a victory on the streets of Baltimore in September to remain the protagonist to Team Penske’s Will Power. With a fourth-place finish in the finale at Auto Club Speedway, Hunter-Reay clinched the title by three points.

The top five in the standings are separated by 65 points (front-runner Helio Castroneves to Takuma Sato), so with the depth of competition (seven different drivers representing five different teams have won) the 250-lap Milwaukee IndyFest on June 15 again will be a marker in the championship chase.

“(The season has) been amazing. Any weekend it could be any driver in this series,” said Hunter-Reay, who posted a victory at Barber Motorsports Park in mid-April and was runner-up in the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. “I would say 15 to 20 drivers any weekend could be theirs, which is a great thing.

“You go into every race thinking you can win it. There's not a whole lot or other any series out there that's like that. It's great to see all the changeā€‘ups, but I'd like to make a move.”

Hunter-Reay is ahead of last year’s standing – in third place, 27 points behind Castroneves and two behind Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti –though his ascent has been tempered by four finishes out of the top 10. Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who vaulted to fourth in the standings with third place at Texas, is a two-time winner at Milwaukee and the 2012 runner-up. He could easily be the eighth winner of the season.

“I don't think you'll see anybody dominating,” said Kanaan, the 2004 series champion. “Consistency is going to be the key. You have to maximize winning; but if you didn't, you've got to finish in the top five, that's because what's going to play down at the end.

“We have seen a lot of inconsistency. That's why we have it bunched up the way it is. The next two tracks (Milwaukee and Iowa Speedway), we finished on the podium the last three years; so it's hard not to think that we are going to have a shot. But, having said that, I'd be very confident at two places one year to the other and been nowhere, so there's no guarantee.”

Predicted Hunter-Reay: “I think (the title chase is) going to come down to the end, the last race like it always does. There will probably be three drivers in it this year again for the last race, and hopefully we are one of them.”

Top five in points at Milwaukee

• Helio Castroneves (12 races) -- 0 wins, 2 top fives, 3 poles. Best finish of second.
• Marco Andretti (6 races) -- 0 wins, 1 top five, 1 pole. Best finish of fifth.
• Ryan Hunter-Reay (7 races) -- 2 wins, 2 top fives, 1 pole.
• Tony Kanaan (13 races) -- 2 wins, 6 top fives, 0 poles.
• Takuma Sato (2 races) -- 0 wins, 0 top five, 0 poles. Best finish of eighth.