Hunter-Reay earns pole at Sonoma, championship contenders all within Top 7

“Lookin’ at the city like I already own it.
Standing on top cause I earned this moment.
I took what was mine, now I won’t let go of it.”
-Zayde Wolf

Those lyrics definitely apply to Ryan Hunter-Reay this afternoon. He just secured the final Verizon P1 Award of the 2018 IndyCar Series season, and the final IndyCar pole at Sonoma Raceway. It’s his best start at Sonoma Raceway, his first pole since Long Beach in 2014, his 7th career P1 start, and you can bet your… well, words I shouldn’t write with this credential still around my neck… that he’s going to try and translate that into a win for the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda team on Sunday.

Five drivers in the field have tasted the sweet wine in Sunoco Victory Lane. Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet) has won the past two years, clinching the IndyCar Series championship in 2016 after starting from pole. He will start from P8 tomorrow and looks to have a strong presence. He’s found good pace through all track sessions this weekend, and will be going for a three-peat at Sonoma – a win tomorrow would also give him that 2018 victory that has remained elusive thus far.

Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) won in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The first two were from the pole. Tomorrow he starts from the inside of Row 4. Power needs to win the Sonoma Grand Prix tomorrow if he wants to add a second championship to his resume this year. But even that wouldn’t be enough. He would need Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Ganassi Honda) to finish P22 or worse, and Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda) to finish P9th or worse.

Speaking of Dixon, he also has three wins at Sonoma – in 2007, 2014, and 2015. He won his 4th championship in 2015 as well. Tomorrow he starts from P2, 4 positions ahead of Alexander Rossi, who poses the biggest threat to Dixon capturing a fifth series championship. He’s second in points and breathing down the neck of DIxon. Don’t expect that to change… in fact, you can expect it to get even more intense when that green flag flies tomorrow afternoon..

Marco Andretti (No. 98 US Concrete Andretti Autosport Honda) won here back in 2006, his first career win. He’s definitely hungry for another victory, as he hasn’t been in victory lane since Iowa in 2011. He’s got nothing to lose this weekend, so you can anticipate him trying to fight through traffic from his pretty prime starting position of P4 tomorrow. He’s found some pace in the car, but the question is whether he can get that out of the car for 85 consecutive laps. That tends to be where Andretti has struggled recently – solid qualifying efforts but no translation to race results. This track is not usually easy to pass on, so starting up front could be a huge benefit to the No. 98 team if they can hold back the remainder of the field.

Tony Kanaan (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) captured victory at Sonoma in 2005, at the series first race at the venue since 1970. Tomorrow will mark his 300th consecutive IndyCar start. He spoke to us yesterday about the accomplishment,

“I think not a single day goes by that I don’t feel fortunate that I’m still around. I’ve been through many things in my career. I’ve been through — lost a lot of friends, a lot of friends got hurt and had to retire, and I’m still here. I feel humbled. I feel very fortunate, and now as a driver, when you start — you start breaking records like that, you just want to keep going.”

Appreciation for opportunities, respect for the danger and constant challenges of this sport, and a positive outlook to the future on what’s to come. Kanaan is pretty poetic! Speaking of the future and what’s to come… how about that Patricio O’Ward kid?!  His first time behind the wheel of an IndyCar ever, was yesterday.

Yesterday.

And today he battles with the big boys, advances not just through Round 1, but Round 2, and then qualifies P5 for the No. 8 Harding Racing Chevy team. This is the best starting position for Harding Racing in their maiden year in the IndyCar Series and will likely have a strong influence on who they sign and how quickly, for 2019. It would behoove them to get O’Ward signed, like… soon. At least for those three guaranteed races that he gets next year thanks to his 2018 Indy Lights Championship. I have a feeling he’s going to have a very busy off-season, fielding calls and weighing options. He just became the most sought after rookie for 2019. Except for maybe that Fred guy…

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Email: shay@livefullthrottle.net

Photo credit: Chris Owens / IndyCar

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