LOUDON, N.H. – The driver who once came to New Hampshire Motor Speedway to watch an open-wheel race as a young boy earned his first career IZOD IndyCar Series victory on an oval at the track.
Ryan Hunter-Reay emerged from a wild finish on an eventful day in the series' return to New England to win the MoveThatBlock.com INDY 225 on Sunday afternoon, getting away from a multi-car wreck on the frontstretch behind him.
"We had such a great car today. I love these short ovals," said Hunter-Reay, who earlier in the week talked about having visited the track as a child and instantly developing an affinity for both the facility and the series. "They are so much fun. It was a strange day, but sometimes racing is strange."
Hunter-Reay's storybook win – the fifth of his career in CART/IndyCar played second fiddle to the biggest storyline of the day.
After two caution periods for light rain during the event, IndyCar officials attempted to have the field restart with eight laps remaining in the race's scheduled distance. But as the field rolled off Turn 4 to come to the green flag, Danica Patrick spun across the track out of the sixth position.
That set off a chain of events that saw several cars also spin, including contenders Will Power and Takuma Sato. Power, and Hunter-Reay's car owner Michael Andretti, were vocal in their displeasure of the decision to return to racing. Brian Barnhart, the series' official in charge of race operations, was the target of their ire.
"I was begging him, 'Please don't go green. It's too slippery,'" Power said. "(Barnhart) makes such bad calls all the time. They cannot have this guy running the show."
"It's the worst officiating I've ever seen," Andretti said.
After further review of the incident, Barnhart declared the on-track running order prior to the restart attempt as the official finish with 215 laps complete.
"It was a mistake on race control's part, and the only right thing to do and the fair thing to do is go back to the running order prior to that restart," Barnhart said. "We ended up tearing up some race cars we shouldn't have," Barnhart said.
"Again, based on the information we had – we're getting reports from observers and from our track's safety people – they said it was a race-able condition. Obviously, the attempted restart showed that wasn't the case."
Hunter-Reay, who had lost the lead to Oriol Servia on the restart, was declared the winner. That might have made Andretti feel a little better, but it certainly did nothing for Servia.
"Regardless of if it was the right or wrong decision, I've never seen that in IndyCar," said Servia, who's second-place finish was his best result of the season. "Ryan deserved to win because he was leading for all those laps, but I was leading when they threw the green and the yellow came. I've never seen before them reversing (a finish) like that.
"The rules are not confusing. It's how they're enforced that's confusing sometimes."
Scott Dixon, who won the previous event at Mid-Ohio, finished third as he tries to claw back into the championship picture.
"It could have been better if they didn't screw up the results like they have," Dixon said.
"I don't think the fans at home understand how wet it was," Hunter-Reay said. "I couldn't even put the power down in second or third (gear). Wrong move on race control's part.
"I just wish it went green to the end. Then I wouldn't have to sit here and explain everything."
Dario Franchitti was fastest in the day-long test session on Thursday in anticipation of IndyCar racing's return to New Hampshire, and he backed that up by winning the pole on Saturday. Sunday looked to be more of the same, as Franchitti led 115 of the first 118 laps – only surrendering the lead during a round of early green-flag pit stops.
But as the field came to a Lap 118 restart, Franchitti and Takuma Sato got together, sending Franchitti into the inside retaining wall on the frontstretch and instantly changing the complexion of the entire race.
"It was my fault," Sato said. "I had debris in my eye and there were tears. There is no excuse for that."
Hunter-Reay took control from there, going on to post his first win of the season and his first oval win since 2004 at the Milwaukee Mile under CART sanctioning.
"I feel like the race turned with Dario and Sato getting together," Hunter-Reay said. "The guys deserve this win. This one is for them. I wish that it was different (circumstances), but we'll take it after the year we've had."