NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — It was the most successful IndyCar finish for American drivers in nearly a decade.
But no one could make Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian points leader, pay for his early misfortune.
Ryan Hunter-Reay raced to his third victory at Iowa Speedway in the last four years Saturday night, leading the first U.S. podium sweep in nine years.
Hunter-Reay held off the field on a late restart to give Andretti Autosport its sixth consecutive win on the 0.894-mile oval and its seventh in nine races at the track.
“(My car) was on rails until the end. I was driving the snot out of it. It was loose, and I just kept my foot to the floor,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was a lot of work in the cockpit. This was one we really had to work for.”
Josef Newgarden was second and rookie Sage Karam was a career-best third, putting Americans in the top three spots for the first time since the 2006 Indianapolis 500.
“It’s very important to note that it’s an international series … so when Americans do (well) and beat the rest of the world it’s great,” said Andretti owner Michael Andretti, who as a driver was part of the podium sweep at Indy in ’06. “To do it here in the heartland…it’s pretty cool.”
Montoya’s night lasted just nine laps after his No. 2 Penske car flew into the wall.
The crash threatened to put Montoya’s cushy lead in jeopardy — especially with Scott Dixon running strong.
But Montoya’s lead dropped from just 54 points to 42 over Graham Rahal, who finished fourth to give Americans the top four spots.
Dixon finished 18th after a mechanical issue and fell to third, gaining just six points on Montoya.
Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion, had been among the more high-profile drivers to struggle with Honda’s engine and aero kit this season. In fact, he hadn’t finished higher than fifth all season.
But Hunter-Reay always seems to run his best in Iowa.
Hunter-Reay, who used fresh tires to get past half the field in the final 10 laps to win in 2014, raced to his 15th career win and gave beleaguered Honda its fourth victory in 13 starts this season.
“This is a huge win for us. Absolutely massive,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s a statement win.”
For Montoya, the run of good luck he’d experienced all season finally came to an abrupt end.
It was only fitting that it happened at Iowa — again.
Montoya, who maintained his edge with top-10s in every race but one, lost control and hit the wall in the second turn, crushing the right side of Team Penske’s No. 2 Chevrolet.
It ended a string of 18 straight races where Montoya was running at the finish.
Montoya last left a race early at Iowa in 2014 because of contact with 20 laps left.
“Something broke. As soon as I let it up, something gave out,” Montoya said. “It sucks when it’s completely out of our hands, when something fails.”
Newgarden wound up second at Iowa for the second year in a row, as he simply ran out of time in his late pursuit of Hunter-Reay.
“I think I probably needed another 20 laps or so and some lapped traffic. I think I could have done something with (Hunter-Reay). But it was really tough,” Newgarden said. “I think we were a winning car, so to finish second was bittersweet.”
It wasn’t a shock to see Karam have his breakthrough at Iowa, given that he’d won races here in four separate ladder series.
Karam did so with some maneuvering that left some of his competitors steamed. Ed Carpenter even confronted the rookie after a close encounter between the two, though the altercation didn’t become physical.
“It’s cool that Ryan won the race. He needed that. Americans kicked butt,” Carpenter said. “(Karam) should have been penalized on the spot. He has no clue.”
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