9.26.2012 (via IndyCar) – Teah DHL/Sun Drop driver Ryan Hunter-Reay captured his first IZOD IndyCar Series Championship at Auto Club Speedway on September 15. Here's a look at what some of the top motorsports media had to say about the championship battle where, truly, every point counted.
Ryan Hunter-Reay opened the IndyCar season determined to take his career to another level.
He had a chance to race for the season-opening win at St. Pete, where a victory would have given him a nice little bump to start things. But when fuel became an issue, and his crew implored him to save gas over the closing laps, he backed off and settled for a third-place finish.
It's not easy to ask a driver, especially one who opened the season with all of three IndyCar victories, not to chase the checkered flag. Hunter-Reay willingly did it, though, because he'd changed his thinking and made the big picture – collecting every point possible – his focus.
It paid off Saturday night when Hunter-Reay capped a career year with his first championship at a major racing level. In finishing fourth, he beat Will Power by three points for the IndyCar title, the first for an American since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.
Jenna Fryer – Associated Press
But attention was firmly riveted on the battle between Power and Hunter-Reay, which was the seventh consecutive IndyCar Series championship clash to go absolutely down to the wire.
No other racing series consistently delivers the same kind of drama, and does it without the benefit of an artificial playoff system.
"You can't beat Indy car racing," said victorious team owner Michael Andretti. "I'm telling you, it's the best in the world."
And now it has a new American champion — the first since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006, and the first in a unified Indy car series since Al Unser Jr. way back in 1994.
Not many put Hunter-Reay on their short list of championship contenders at the start of the season. But by earning a series-high four race wins with a series of gritty performances, the 31-year-old Floridian genuinely established himself as a top Indy car driver.
John Oreovicz – ESPN.com
The reality of Ryan Hunter-Reay's championship can be measured by blinks of an eye. One less blink, and he would have been hit by Will Power's spinning car.
As it turned out, he got an extra blink, missed Power's car by inches and survived 194 more laps of searing drama Saturday to win the Izod IndyCar Series championship by finishing fourth in the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.
Jeff Olson – USA Today
Of all the things he's been called over the past 31 years, hearing his name followed by "IZOD IndyCar Series Champion" for the first time registered with a mix of surreal and sublime for the American.
After almost a decade of digging and clawing to get to where he stood posing with the Astor Cup Saturday night in Fontana, the southern California boy sat at the podium and shared his emotions with the assembled press.
"I can't put it into words the feeling," he said. "How hard I had to fight. How we had to fight tonight. How we had to fight at Baltimore. Just this whole thing has not set in yet. I'm still in almost fight mode. We just came back. We really earned this one."
Marshall Pruett – Speed.com
What we saw Saturday night was Indy car racing at its jaw-dropping best – a wild west show with 30 lead changes, non-stop passing, one game-changing accident, a spirited charge to the title, an impressive victory for a little guy and the kind of drama that can’t be scripted.
If you didn’t like the MAVTV 500, then you probably need to find another sport to watch.
It was Ryan Hunter-Reay delivering under the kind of pressure that defines a champion and it was Will Power gutted by another mistake and denied No. 1 for a third straight year.
Robin Miller – Speed.com
On this night, in the series finale, there was a nerve-wracking finish after points leader Will Power of Australia crushed his car on the wall early in the race, leaving the championship to American Ryan Hunter-Reay – if he could only finish in fifth place.
Fifth, you say? How about fourth for Hunter-Reay, while fellow American Ed Carpenter took the checkered flag.
All in all, an exciting show, and never mind big crowd-little crowd dynamic. It would be a simple shame if the IndyCar Series doesn’t find its way back here, sooner rather than later.
Gregg Patton – Riverside Press-Enterprise
Say what you will about the troubled state of IndyCar racing — and there's no shortage of problems to discuss — but the series still can put on a compelling show.
That was evident on a hot Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, where the IZOD IndyCar Series returned for the first time in seven years.
The MAVTV 500 was the series' season finale, with drivers Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay locked in a close championship battle.
So there was a race within the race, with 26 drivers trying not only to win the event but Power and Hunter-Reay trying to finish high enough to capture the title.
Hunter-Reay, 17 points behind Power when the green flag fell, prevailed after Power suffered a stunning setback by crashing early.
But even with Power's accident, it wasn't known until the last lap of the 250-lap race whether HunterReay would gain enough points to overtake Power for the title.
The result was a tense, thrilling race that saw Hunter-Reay — who needed to finish fifth to become champion — hang on to finish fourth and capture his first title by only three points over Power.
Jim Peltz, Los Angeles Times
To anyone who has followed the last couple of IndyCar seasons, half of the story is familiar: it's the final race, and Will Power is in a position to win his first championship.
The twist is that in the past, it has been the red Target colours and saltire-emblazoned helmet of Dario Franchitti that has loomed large in the Australian's thoughts during the long nights leading up to the finale. The Scot is out of the equation this time, and instead it's the bright yellow car of Andretti's Ryan Hunter-Reay that will be working to deny Power his glory once again.
One way or another, a first-time champion will be crowned at Fontana on Saturday evening.
Mark Glendenning, Autosport
Ryan Hunter-Reay now has an IndyCar championship before any of the Team Penske drivers. The former vagabond who was always the American earmarked with so much potential is now in rarified air.
Put simply, the last two races for him and the Andretti Autosport team have been the definition of clutch.
Backs up against the wall after Sonoma, RHR and crew adopted a “nothing to lose, we're not out of it” attitude and thrived. Team principal Michael Andretti made the inspired call to stay on slicks at Baltimore, netting RHR the key track position, and his second-to-last restart jumping Ryan Briscoe was a well-timed move.
In Fontana, despite fighting an ill-handling car throughout the week, and after already crashing in testing on Wednesday, the team stuck to the “never give up” mantra and with a revised race setup, hung on in the early stages before the track got dark. Hunter-Reay again came to life on the second-to-last restart, passing cars once he was in a position to secure the championship.
Either champion would have been worthy, but Hunter-Reay's title is well deserved. Will Power's class, too, was as impressive as Hunter-Reay's drive. The sportsmanship he displayed in defeat was a fitting end to a great race.
Tony DiZinno, RACER.com
Will Power called Ryan Hunter-Reay a deserving IndyCar champion. The words were as true as they were sincere.
Hunter-Reay capped a dramatic comeback Saturday night by finishing fourth at Auto Club Speedway in the season's final race. It was a drive worthy of a championship.
Hunter-Reay crashed his ill-handling car during a Friday practice, then nearly got lapped early in Saturday's 500-mile race by JR Hildebrand. Hunter-Reay even needed the help he got from an unlikely opponent to have a chance at his first series title.
Somehow, he made it happen.
Curt Cavin, Indianapolis Star
A new IndyCar Champion was crowned this weekend, and the 2012 season has officially come to a conclusion. It was an incredible ending to a fantastic season that was filled with many changes. For the Championship to be decided by just three points on the final lap of a 500-mile race is something you would only see on a movie screen or in a book.
For Hunter-Reay, it truly has been a roller coaster ride. After bouncing around from team to team, he has finally found a home at Andretti Autosport. They now have another Championship-winning driver that still has a fantastic future ahead of him.
Chad Smith, The Bleacher Report