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Ryan Hunter-Reay's win epic and close

5/25/2014

Last year’s Indianapolis 500 set records for leaders, lead changes and average speed, making it a hard act to follow.

But the 2014 edition of the race may have done just that, as Ryan Hunter-Reay beat runner-up Helio Castroneves by 0.060 seconds, the second-closest finish in the 98 Indianapolis 500s. The only closer finish came in 1992, when Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds.

Hunter-Reay became the first American to win the Indianapolis 500 since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 (who won in the third-closest margin of victory in event history, 0.064 seconds), snapping the longest drought without an American-born winner in event history.

Hunter-Reay laid low throughout the two-week buildup to the event, starting 19th in the 33-car field. That’s the worst starting position by a 500 winner since Al Unser started 20th in 1987. Since 1940, only four drivers have won this race starting 19th or worse.

It’s a career highlight for Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar Series champion who finished third in last year’s race. However, he was far from the only driver among the top finishers who could have made history with a win.

Helio Castroneves

Castroneves and Hunter-Reay traded the lead throughout the closing laps, part of the 34 lead changes that tied the second most in event history (behind only the 68 last year). But Castroneves had to settle for second.

He was going for his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory, which would have tied three other drivers for the most in event history. It was Castroneves' 14th start in the race, which would have tied Rick Mears for the fewest starts to reach a record-tying four wins.

Marco Andretti

Like Hunter-Reay, Andretti was trying to be the first American driver to win this race since 2006, but he was also racing to further his family’s racing heritage.

The storied Andretti family still is stuck on just one Indy 500 victory, that coming from Marco’s grandfather Mario Andretti, who won in 1969. Marco Andretti finished third in the race, his fifth top-five finish in nine career Indy 500 starts.

Carlos Muñoz

Muñoz, 22, was the runner-up behind Tony Kanaan in last year’s Indianapolis 500 and finished fourth this year. Muñoz would have been the second-youngest winner in event history behind Troy Ruttman, who was a little more than a month younger than Muñoz when he won in 1952.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya won this race as a rookie in 2000 in dominating fashion, leading 167 of 200 laps. This was just his second career Indy 500 start, as Montoya has since had stops in Formula One and NASCAR.

Montoya’s fifth-place finish ensures that Castroneves remains the only driver to win his first two Indy 500 starts.

Kurt Busch

A sixth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 is just the start of Busch’s day, as he will fly to Charlotte, North Carolina, to run in NASCAR’s 600-mile race, the longest of its season.

Busch’s sixth-place finish ties the best among drivers to start both races in the same day (assuming he makes it to Charlotte in time for the start of the race). Tony Stewart was also sixth in 2001 and followed that up with a third-place finish in the 600, becoming the only driver to run all 1,100 miles in the same day.