The Frontstretch: IndyCar Baltimore Recap: Title Battle Tightens with Hunter-Reay Victory by Huston Ladner -- Monday September 3, 2012

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In a Nutshell: In a race that was filled with nine full course cautions, Ryan Hunter-Reay pushed the pace and made his way from a poor qualifying position to take the checkered flag first. Aggressive from the onset, Hunter-Reay wasted no time in letting it be known that he would be a contender for the win. Joining him on the podium, Ryan Briscoe took second with Rookie of the Year winner Simon Pagenaud taking third. Scott Dixon and Reubens Barrichello slotted themselves in fourth and fifth respectively.

Ryan Briscoe got snookered on the second to last restart by Ryan Hunter-Reay and couldn’t get back by. He finished second. Credit to INDYCAR/LAT USA.

Key Moment: While Briscoe and Will Power would probably argue that the second-to-last restart was the key moment, with Hunter-Reay seemingly jumping the flag, that is not the case. The key moment came earlier in the race when the field divided itself with some choosing to go to rain tires, notably Power and Scott Dixon, while Hunter-Reay and others stayed with the slicks. This track position, putting Hunter-Reay in the top spot, would be the formula to keep him in contention for the win in the second half of the race while Power was forced to scrap to make positions and time.

Highlight Reel

- The penultimate restart will be the one that draws most of the attention, with Hunter-Reay appearing to jump. At this point it’s a non-issue, as race control defended his move and no penalty was imposed.

- Sebastian Bourdais had moved into P2 with a smooth, smart run in the early stages of the race but would ultimately be felled by mechanical issues.

- Power, the polesitter, had an unremarkable race, finishing sixth. Though his car may have been one of the best, once the team chose their pit strategy all they could do was claw to the best finish they could.

- Dario Franchitti. Winner of the What Happened to Him Award? He was in contention for a top 5 result with only a few laps left only to limp home a disappointing 13th. Surely the reigning IZOD IndyCar champ is looking forward to this season being over.

- Nine full course cautions! That would seem to make up for the three previous races, when two were caution free. It’s hard to know if the track was that difficult or that the nine cautions were an aberration – either way, it hardly makes for entertaining viewing. At times it felt like there was hardly a race going on as the drivers paraded around the course behind the safety car.

- Is anyone else tired of the term weather? The announcers commented frequently at the beginning of the race at the approaching weather. Apparently that means that sunshine, or cloudiness are not weather, only rain is weather. What’s wrong with using the word rain?

- Not to single him out, but Marco Andretti again wrecked his car early in a road/street course.

- One of the big INDYCAR announcements was that there would be no delay in the push-to-pass feature for this race. All fine and good. The problem was that it was largely ineffective for this track. It seems that the series is still figuring out how to best use this component, and it’s one that should be examined thoroughly in the off-season.

- In conjunction with the extensive amount of caution laps was the problem of clearing crashed or disabled cars from the track. Having watched F1’s crash-marred opening at Spa earlier, INDYCAR looked positively lethargic in clearing the racing surface. This too seems like an area where they could stand improvement.

- Takuma Sato finally was putting together a solid race, leading a number of laps in the middle section, but his equipment failed to hold up and he endured yet another DNF.

Notable Driver: Ryan Briscoe. After suffering through a lifeless season he has come alive the past two races with a win and a second place finish. That’s good results for a driver who is both trying to keep his ride and auditioning for others. Considering that Roger Penske already offered Briscoe’s seat to Hunter-Reay for next season (per a Speed TV report – and no word on whether he has taken it), Briscoe needs good results to stay relevant. Is it possible that another podium finish could encourage his return, or does it make him hot property? Hard to know.

Quotes and Tweets:

Graham Rahal @GrahamRahal
I honestly think had we not had the penalty we were in the spot to win. I felt it today, thought it was coming our way. #HeadUp #FightAgain

Mayor Rawlings-Blake ‏@MayorSRB
Doesn’t Baltimore look beautiful on @NBCSN TV?

Ashley Judd ‏@AshleyJudd
Holy moly dad gummit this is an exciting race! Love a little rain to shake things up. dariofranchitti IndyCar

Parker Kligerman @pkligerman
The “I’m a race car driver” commercials by indycar are pure genius. Gives a series like that a real premier feel. Love it. #IndyCar

From a fan’s perspective: Drew Allen @drewallennews
And while the series never seems to fail to shoot itself in the foot, the racing this year has been as good as I can remember. #IndyCar

What’s Next: The season finale. Championship at stake. Two drivers and 500 miles. A mere 17 points separate Power and Hunter-Reay, and it’s an environment where Power is not at ease, having still not acclimated fully to oval racing. In IndyCar’s best laid plans there was hope the season could come down to the final laps – and it looks like it will. Catch the race on NBC Sports at 8 EST on September 15th and on XM/Sirius.

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SHOEMAN
09/03/2012 12:01 PM
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We don’t need the CHASE!!!

Sandeep Banerjee
09/05/2012 02:27 AM
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Hopefully RHR gets it as he has been the better all rounder. Will is still out to lunch on the ovals.