IndyCar Indy 500 champ Hunter-Reay happy he won't be 'overlooked'
Ryan Hunter-Reay was deeply disappointed when his 2012 championship was overshadowed by IndyCar politics. His breakthrough moment was largely ignored by the league as it fought with yet another CEO. It was a lost opportunity for a series starving for an American star, a role Hunter-Reay has desperately wanted to fill. He would knock on doors, shake hands and kiss babies if IndyCar asked, but no one ever did.
Now he's an Indianapolis 500 winner, just the sixth American driver in 20 years to claim that title. When Tony George created IndyCar in 1996, he said it was a series that would give American drivers a chance to succeed. But Hunter-Reay is just the fourth American to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since George launched his league, and he's the first red, white and blue draped driver to win since 2006.
So maybe this win, the biggest by far of his career, will be the boost Hunter-Reay needs to raise his profile.
"I'm real. I'm genuine. There's not a whole lot theatrics about me," Hunter-Reay said Monday, a day after he nipped Helio Castroneves at the line to win Indy.
"I'm not going to put on a whole big show and jump through hoops. I'm going to be me, and I am thrilled to be here. I'm a hard-charging American and I've had to fight every step of my career for this ride."
That was the story that should have been told in 2012, when Hunter-Reay, who had been out of work six years earlier, reeled off three consecutive wins to climb into the championship race. Then, facing elimination, he won again to send his title fight with Will Power into the finale, where Hunter-Reay walked away with his first championship.
It was a career year and came a season after one of the lowest points of his career: He failed to qualify for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 and Andretti Autosport had to buy a seat from A.J. Foyt to get Hunter-Reay into the race.
But IndyCar management was too busy planning the ouster of CEO Randy Bernard to focus on Hunter-Reay, and when Bernard was cut loose a month after the championship, the driver was completely forgotten.
"Yeah, I was overlooked in 2012. The series wanted an American champion and we had one," he said. "Randy was moving out and the search for a new CEO was on, and I don't really think that's big news or anything, but it definitely took precedence.
"This win, I hope it does breakthrough. I'll be a great and honest champion. I'll fly the flag for our sport and you'll always get the real deal with me."
Hunter-Reay is game for playing the role IndyCar wants and needs. He draped himself in the American flag, noted the significance of winning on Memorial Day weekend, and spoke repeatedly about his national pride. What he failed to mention is that Sunday's victory moved him to the top of the IndyCar points standings. And he didn't brag about one of his daredevil passes for the lead, the one in which he nearly drove into the grass.
The irony, of course, is that just a month ago Hunter-Reay was criticized for an aggressive move at Long Beach that backfired and wrecked several race cars. If Hunter-Reay has his way, those moves will work every time and his legacy as a tough, hard, American racer will be cemented.
"I am aggressive and will always go for it. When I was growing up, I really loved the drivers that were like that," he said. "I'm married to Beccy, I was a big fan of Robby. He was always the guy that you wanted to watch. He was coming through, one way or the other. He might not finish, but he's coming through.
"We've got a championship to go win this year, for sure. I'll probably still go 110 percent and be aggressive and I'm not going to let up in any way."
NBA Thunder's Ibaka OK after return from injury
So far, so good for Serge Ibaka's comeback.
The Thunder forward said Monday that his strained left calf is feeling fine, and he expects to be able to play Tuesday in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
Ibaka came back from what was thought to be a season-ending injury to play 30 minutes in Game 3 against San Antonio. He had 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks to help Oklahoma City beat the Spurs 106-97 Sunday night and trim their deficit in the series to 2-1.
"It was kind of hard a little bit with my feet," he said. "I was using more my right foot than left foot. I could not do too much last night. After we saw the video, I felt like I was slow."
If that was Ibaka's version of not doing much, San Antonio might have a problem. The Spurs won the first two games by a combined 52 points, but with Ibaka, Oklahoma City dominated on Sunday and led by 20 with just over three minutes to go.
"I love what he did," Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. "I love the determination that he played with. That's something that he's done all along. That was a great, great game by him. He impacted the game both ends of the floor."
Lindsey Wilson still alive in NAIA World Series
Lindsey Wilson pitcher Jordan Hood scattered seven hits and struck out five in a 7-0 victory Monday against St. Gregory's (Okla.) in an elimination game at the NAIA Softball World Series at Columbus, Ga. The seventh-seeded Blue Raiders advanced to Tuesday to face the loser of fifth-seeded Reinhardt (Ga.) and eighth-seeded Oklahoma City, who played later Monday.
Lindsey Wilson (50-10) got 13 hits, including home runs by Amanda Trampe, Kristina Krupinski and Abbi Goedde.
Lowry tops England qualifier for U.S. Open
Shane Lowry topped the list of U.S. Open qualifiers a day after missing out by a shot in qualifying automatically for next month's championship. Lowry shot rounds of a 3-under par 69 at Walton Heath's New Course on Monday and then posted a 5-under par 67 on Old Course for an 8-under par total to finish a stroke clear among the 14 leading qualifiers in a starting field of 105 players.
The double European Tour winner had secured his biggest pay check in finishing runner-up to Rory McIlroy in Sunday's concluding BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth where a win would have seen Lowry having to avoid teeing up at Walton Heath.
Padraig Harrington will miss his first U.S. Open in 15 years after falling six shots shy of qualifying with rounds of 75 and 71. Last month, Harrington also failed to qualify for the Masters for a first occasion in 14 years.
■ Stanford's Cameron Wilson defeated Georgia Tech's Ollie Schniederjans on the third playoff hole to win the NCAA men's individual golf championship. Both had finished three rounds at 6-under par at Hutchison, Kan. Kentucky's Stephen Powers and Ben Stow both shot even par and tied for 29th.
Stanford finished at 13 under as a team to advance to match play along with Alabama (-4), LSU (-4), Oklahoma State (E), Georgia Tech (+1), UCLA (+4), SMU (+5) and Illinois (+5). Kentucky tied for 18th at 17-over par.
The last word
An interview with Nicolas Mahut after his opening-round match at the French Open on Monday:
Moderator: Questions in English, please.
Mahut: Congratulations? I lost.
Reporter: You lost? OK. So what happened out there?
Mahut: Are you serious? Did you watch the match?
Reporter: No, I didn't. I was told that you won. I'm sorry.
Mahut: Questions in French, please.