AJ Mast, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Hunter-Reay peeked around Helio Castroneves, then reversed course and dipped inside for a daredevil pass and the lead in the Indianapolis 500.
Castroneves charged back to the front, winning a drag race down the frontstretch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And then, in a stirring wheel-to-wheel battle between a pair of bright yellow cars, Hunter-Reay seized the lead once more Sunday as the drivers hurtled across the Yard of Bricks with a single, 2.5-mile lap remaining.
With nobody in front of him, Hunter-Reay used the entire track to keep Castroneves in his rearview mirror. He nipped him at the line by less than half a car length, denying his Brazilian rival a chance at history Sunday and becoming the first American in eight years to win the Indy 500.
"The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" had lived up to its nickname.
"This race was ridiculously close and competitive," Hunter-Reay said. "Just glad I picked the right time to go."
The finish was well worth the wait — to the fans who watched 150 laps of caution-free racing, to the drivers who bided their time unsure of when they should charge to the front and to Hunter-Reay, who finally got to drink the celebratory milk in his seventh try. He beat Castroneves by just 0.060 seconds — only the 1992 race had a closer finish when Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds.
"I'm a proud American boy, that's for sure," Hunter-Reay said in Victory Lane before he was joined by his wife and son. "I've watched this race since I was sitting in diapers on the floor in front of the TV. My son did it today. He watched me here. I'm thrilled. This is American history, this race. This is American tradition."
He was serenaded by chants of "USA! USA!" as he made his way around the post-race celebrations. He was joined by son Ryden, born shortly after Hunter-Reay's 2012 IndyCar championship and wearing a miniature version of his father's firesuit as his parents kissed the bricks.
Castroneves, trying to become the fourth driver to win a fourth Indianapolis 500, settled for second. He needed several moments to compose himself, slumped in his car, head down and helmet on. The Brazilian said a caution with 10 laps to go broke his rhythm as red flag came out so track workers could clean debris and repair a track wall.
"It was a great fight," he smiled. "I tell you what, I was having a great time. Unfortunately, second. It's good, but second sucks, you know what I mean?"
Marco Andretti finished third and Carlos Munoz was fourth as Andretti Autosport had three cars in the top four, as well as the winner.
Kurt Busch, also in a Honda for Andretti, finished sixth in his first race of the day. He left immediately for a flight after the race and arrived about an hour later in North Carolina for Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600, hoping to become just the second driver to complete the 1,100-mile Double in one day. Three other drivers have made the attempt, but only Tony Stewart in 2001 pulled it off. Stewart was sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"All in all, I'm very pleased. I cannot believe the execution of this team," Busch said before hustling away for a helicopter ride to his waiting plane. "I tried to enjoy it. My throat's real dry because I was smiling the whole time and the fresh air was coming in my mouth."
Marco Andretti appeared to have a shot at the win, but after the final restart he never could mix it up with Hunter-Reay and Castroneves as the two leaders swapped position four times in the final five laps. So certain his son would be a contender for the victory Sunday, Michael Andretti was just as thrilled with Hunter-Reay's win.
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