Hunter-Reay Gets One More Year in IndyCar

Yesterday, we got official confirmation that Ryan Hunter-Reay would continue with Andretti Autosport in the No. 28 DHL entry for the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season. I don’t think anyone was surprised at all that this happened. Nor do I think anyone was shocked that it was only a one-year extension to the four-year deal that Hunter-Reay and Andretti inked prior to the 2017 season.

Like Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, whom I discussed on Wednesday, Hunter-Reay is no longer a young man in driver’s terms. He turned forty last month, and his production has dropped over the last couple of seasons. Is that age-related, team-related, bad luck or all of the above? The answer is probably a combination of all three and other factors, but still – it is rare to sign a driver over forty to a multi-year deal.

Like Power and Pagenaud, I think Hunter-Reay’s long-term future with Andretti depends on what he does on the track in 2021.

We know DHL likes him. That’s obvious. When he wants to be, Ryan Hunter-Reay can be an excellent representative for his sponsors and for IndyCar. Sometimes, his mood gets in the way and he can become downright surly. When he is in victory lane or has an excellent qualifying run, Ryan Hunter-Reay can be as likeable and as affable as any driver in the paddock. But when things aren’t going his way – he comes across like somebody just shot his dog.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has had some excellent years, most of them with Andretti Autosport. He has been around longer than most people realize. He appeared on the open-wheel racing scene in Champ Car in 2003, winning at Surfers Paradise as a rookie, then the next season at Milwaukee.

When Jeff Simmons was released from Rahal-Letterman in the middle of the 2007 IndyCar season, Hunter-Reay was available and finished out the season. He returned to the team in 2008, with the same Ethanol sponsorship that had been with the team since the late Paul Dana brought it for the 2006 season. Hunter-Reay won for Rahal at Watkins Glen, but when the Ethanol sponsorship went away – Rahal had nothing to replace it with, so he put his team on a three-year hiatus, racing only in the Indianapolis 500 from 2009 through 2011.

Hunter-Reay was a driver without a team. He was finally picked up by Vision Racing just before the 2009 season. After finishing second at St. Petersburg, things suddenly went terribly wrong. Poor practice sessions, poor qualifying efforts and bad race results made Hunter-Reay one very unhappy driver. He came across in interviews as someone on their way to their proctologist. His demeanor didn’t change when he was “farmed out” to AJ Foyt’s team to finish the season. Through eleven races with Foyt, Hunter-Reay had nine finishes of thirteenth or worse. Many, myself included, assumed this was the beginning of the end of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s career.

Fate intervened in 2010. That was the first year that IZOD was title sponsor for the series. He had become their spokesperson, and had some sponsorship money that he took to Andretti Autosport for a handful of races in the season. He ended up winning Long Beach in the fourth race of the season. His handful of races kept getting extended by one or two races throughout the 2010 season until he ended up driving the full season to a seventh-place finish.

After a series championship, an Indianapolis 500 win and eleven seasons – Ryan Hunter-Reay is still there and will be beginning his twelfth season with Andretti Autosport in April at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

Since 2011, DHL has been his sponsor – either as a co-primary sponsor with Sun Drop, or as the full sponsor. Now that Marlboro, Target and ABC Supply are all gone, I think DHL is second only to Verizon in current sponsor longevity in the series.

Hunter-Reay has won fifteen races in his tenure at Andretti Autosport. He won the championship in 2012 and the 2014 Indianapolis 500 in a thrilling late-race duel with Helio Castroneves. For most of the past decade, he was the de facto leader at Andretti Autosport. Recently, that title has unofficially been passed to Alexander Rossi – although neither had a good season last year. Hunter-Reay has had four winless seasons in the past five seasons. His last race win was at Sonoma in 2018.

Although he has gone winless in four of the past five seasons, the wheels haven’t totally fallen off – not yet, anyway. But the trend is not good. The past five seasons, Hunter-Reay has had season finishes in points of twelfth, ninth, fourth, eighth and tenth. Those results are indicative of a driver that is definitely on the downside of their career.

On Wednesday, I wrote about two drivers that probably still want to race beyond this year, but may not have the option to at their current team. I’m going to guess that is not the case for Ryan Hunter-Reay, but I put emphasis on the word guess. I could be very wrong, but I feel like Ryan Hunter-Reay may quietly decide for himself that 2021 may be it for him. Unless he is in the thick of things throughout the entire season, I have an idea that he will call it a career and spend time with his family. When you have won a championship and an Indianapolis 500, I have an idea it is not a ton of fun being an afterthought on the team, when the newest driver (Colton Herta) that had the greatest success on the team last season is half your age.

When this week started, it never dawned on me that I would spend so much time speculating on the twilight years of different driver’s careers. I had been thinking about the situation of the two Penske drivers for some time, so that explains Wednesday’s topic. When I saw yesterday that Ryan Hunter-Reay had only been extended by one year – it seemed pretty obvious to me that this may be it for him. If it is, I hope he goes out on a high note this season.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Hunter-Reay Gets One More Year in IndyCar”

  1. I thought RHR and DHL would both leave at the end of 2020 when their contracts expired. I could see Hunter-Reay doing 500 one offs for 2-3 more years.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    With the dues he paid just to get into the sport (including racing for Paul Gentilozzi), I would be happy to see Hunter-Reay on the Indycar grid for as long as he wants to be there. Realistically, I still think he will run past 2021, full or part-time. With Andretti? That seems less likely, but a lot will depend on how this year goes.

  3. I see it as being treated as a year to year extension depending on performance.

  4. If RHR is not racing at Andretti in 2022 and dear is I would be very saddened. I think Rossi will jump ship if Cindric gives him a second chance. Then it’s Herta and ….RHR. I depends on Penske I feel.

  5. Please read as “ Dear Marco”

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