Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves

INDYCAR continues our celebration of the 12 days of Christmas with 12 of the most memorable storylines from the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is accustomed to fighting for every ounce of success that has come his way. His duel with Helio Castroneves over the lead and eventual win at the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 was a perfect example of the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion’s resolve, and with one daring pass to take the lead on Lap 197, RHR pulled off the biggest win of his career.

“It really comes down to the fact that I couldn’t have asked for the race to play out in any better way,” Hunter-Reay said. “To be a part, to be an Indy 500 winner is the top of the top of my list. But to win it that way in such a close fight…we knew that if we were to have a green finish, it was going to be an extremely close race, one with a lot of lead changes. We finally had that.”

The 2014 Indy 500 was just one of many recent Memorial Day classics to feature great battles in the final laps, but with most of those ending under caution, the scrap between RHR’s No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda and Castroneves’ No. 3 Team Penske Chevy would make it to the checkered flag without interruption.

“I am just so relieved it didn’t end in a yellow or shortened by rain or anything like that,” RHR added. “And I always knew that I would put everything on the line for that win. I think everybody would. You see what [Takuma] Sato did with [Dario] Franchitti a few years back. It’s the only thing that matters, really. When you’re in that moment you’ll give anything to make it happen, and I think that’s what you see from my driving there.”

RHR’s relentless pursuit of the lead at Indy ushered him into a select club of “500” winners and he says life hasn’t been the same since his determined drive on May 25.

“It’s been fantastic…it’s been amazing…every part of the journey, it’s been more than I could have ever expected,” he noted. “The Indy 500, like I’ve said many times--it transcends motorsports, it’s part of American tradition. Even the most casual of motorsports fans, even people that aren’t motorsports fans, know and watch the Indy 500. It’s been pretty amazing, the recognition you get for winning what many consider is the biggest race in the world.”

With more than six month to reflect on what took place at Indy, RHR believes the stars aligned in his favor. Roles were reversed at last year’s Indy 500 as he watched Tony Kanaan rocket past to the front of the field in the final laps, and with the tables turned, he knows what Castroneves must have been feeling with the No. 28 Honda motored by to take the win.

“You know, there’s so much that goes into putting yourself in the position to compete for a win at the Indy 500: There’s so much that has to go right over the entire month, over the course of the day, over the course of the 500 miles to be in that duel at the end. The emotions in the car; your heart rate is probably towards 185 those last few laps, holding your breath through every corner,” he said.

“Everything that you do in life is for that moment. If you come up short, it’s a horribly devastating feeling. You’ve got it right there in your grip and it just slips away. For sure, I’ve had that – I had that same kind of feeling when I led the field back to the green, TK passed me on the inside of Turn 1, the yellow comes out, and the race is over. I think the fight that Helio and I had, though, was a bit more dramatic. I’m also happy with the ending, and you knew only one of us was going to feel that way when it was over.”