MAVTV 500 Practice Report

It’s a big weekend for the team and for Ryan Hunter-Reay in particular, as he aims for his first IndyCar championship in the No. 28 DHL/Sun Drop Chevrolet. The race takes place Saturday evening, with the live telecast starting at 7:30 pm ET on the NBC Sports Network. Ryan, who calls Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. home, would be the first American driver to win the title since Sam Hornish Jr. did so in 2006.

On the strength of his league-leading four victories, Hunter-Reay trails Will Power by 17 points going into the weekend. Including bonus points for winning the pole (1 point) and leading the most laps (2 points), there are 29 different finishing combinations between Hunter-Reay and Power that would give Ryan the title. The most basic explanation is that Power will secure the title outright by finishing first or second, while Hunter-Reay must finish sixth or better to have any mathematical chance. In case of a tie, Hunter-Reay holds the advantage based on race wins.

Two titles: Hunter-Reay is also gunning for a second title this weekend: the AJ Foyt Trophy, which is presented to the driver with the most points scored in the 2012 oval races. Hunter-Reay is tied for the lead with Tony Kanaan, while his Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe is third in the oval standings. Hunter-Reay has won the last two IndyCar oval races.

“I definitely like the position we’re in, chasing,” Hunter-Reay said today at a media conference in Santa Monica. “We’ve been doing that for most of the year. I think we’ve been getting better at it. We need to go out and focus on winning. That’s really what it’s going to be about. The race that we have in the first 250 (miles) is going to be a lot different than we have in the last 250. We could see a lot of comers and goers. It’s going to be changing the entire time.”

No matter how he finishes Saturday evening’s race, the 2012 season is already full of personal bests for the 31-year old Hunter-Reay. He set new career-best marks for victories (4), podium finishes (6), races led (6), and also scored his first pole position since 2004. Hunter-Reay is also assured of topping his previous best points finish (he was seventh in both 2010 and 2011).

It would be the fourth title for Andretti Autosport since being established in 2003 (then known as Andretti Green Racing). The previous IndyCar titles were won by Kanaan in 2004, the late Dan Wheldon in 2005 and Dario Franchitti in 2007. Coming into this weekend’s event, Andretti Autosport has recorded 43 IndyCar victories in 162 races, nearly a 27% winning average.

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