WEST ALLIS, Wis. (June 16, 2013) — The trophy Ryan Hunter-Reay held Saturday in victory lane is named Ryden, which makes this Father's Day a special first one for IndyCar's reigning champion.
Ryden was born in December, two months after his father captured his first series championship. The boy wasn't at Barber Motorsports Park in April when the No. 1 car rolled into victory lane, which made the celebration at the Milwaukee Mile the family's first true one.
Hunter-Reay's wife, Beccy, stood at their side, beaming.
"We're going to remember that forever," he said.
Hunter-Reay will have the photographs to prove it, something he didn't get from the Barber win.
"I felt bad about that," he said.
Saturday was a perfect day for the Andretti Autosport driver. He had the strongest car despite being the No. 4 qualifier and rolled through traffic better than the rest. Hunter-Reay could put his car where few others could, in either groove, which is what he loves about racing here.
Lincoln Electric is a proud partner of Andretti Autosport.
"I love searching around for (tire) grip," he said.
The win was the third at the Mile for the Floridian, who took another step toward Milwaukee immortality. Only a handful of the sport's legends won here more often, including Hunter-Reay's boss, Michael Andretti, who won five times. Rodger Ward holds the record with six.
Andretti not only fielded the cars of Hunter-Reay, fourth-place E.J. Viso and fifth-place James Hinchcliffe, the marketing company he owns promoted the weekend event. Hunter-Reay joked about how everything came together nicely.
"If it was a NASCAR race I'd say it was fixed," he said.
Last year's win here was the start of Hunter-Reay's championship push, and he followed it up with wins at Iowa Speedway and the Toronto street circuit in succession. He hopes to do the same starting next week at Iowa.
This 4.9-second victory pulled Hunter-Reay into second place in the championship chase, two positions better than he was a year ago at this point. He now trails Helio Castroneves, who finished second, by only 16 points, a small deficit given the 10 races that remain.
Realistically, it could have been a 1-2 finish for the Andretti team. Viso was poised to battle his teammate for the win until a caution on Lap 96 for, of all people pole-sitter Marco Andretti, impacted the fuel strategy of several drivers.
Takuma Sato and Castroneves benefited the most, and that kept them in contention. Sato finished seventh only because he pitted under green just a few laps ahead of the late caution for Ana Beatriz's brush with the Turn 3 wall.
Castroneves was due to pit just before the Andretti caution — he had an electrical problem that caused his car to stall on the backstretch — and that gave him new life. Hunter-Reay, who effectively dominated the race, passed him with 53 laps to go.
"He should have finished 15th, maybe 12th," Michael Andretti said of the Brazilian.
Castroneves' only problem the rest of the way came with lapped traffic. He was so frustrated by it with three laps to go that he ran his charging teammate, Will Power, into the grass.
Power said he gave Castroneves the extra room because "he's leading the championship."
The teammates finished second and third. They had no chance to win with Hunter-Reay in the game.
"He's definitely in his prime, there's no question about it," Michael Andretti said. "He's at the right age; he's got all the experience he needs."
Fatherhood suits him.