Bumping Bruno Junqueira saved jobs

May, 26, 2011
05/26/11
6:33
PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bruno Junqueira lost his job for the Indy 500, and that's disappointing.

But an entire race team could have lost jobs if team owners Michael Andretti and A.J. Foyt had not made a surprising partnership to place Ryan Hunter-Reay in Foyt's car that Junqueira was driving.

A day after Hunter-Reay was bumped out of the field by Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, Hunter-Reay took Junqueira's seat in Foyt's No. 41 car in an agreement with Andretti and Foyt to keep Hunter-Reay's DHL sponsorship in the race.

The move brought a wave of complaints from fans and reporters about the injustice of the move. Foyt and Michael Andretti were heavily criticized for forcing Junqueira out.

But there are two sides to every story. DHL is the primary sponsor for the No. 28 car that Hunter-Reay drives. Part of the sponsor agreement was contingent on Hunter-Reay making the Indy 500.

"I really feel for my dad,'' Marco said about Michael. "He struck his neck on the line for the livelihood of our mechanics and that team. This was a make-or-break point for that sponsor. People are entitled to their opinion, but we made a business decision for our team."

Hunter-Reay knows some people also see him as bad guy for taking Junqueira's spot, but a lot of people would have been unemployed without the swap.

"It's about keeping the doors open on the 28 car," Hunter-Reay said Thursday. "Deals are being sealed now for 2012. That doesn't happen when the season ends. It happens now.

"I'm just the driver and I don't know all the business details, but I know this is a move the team felt it had to make to keep going. It's an unfortunate situation. Nobody wanted to go do this."

Hunter-Reay said Junqueira was the first person he talked to after the swap was made.

"Bruno was an absolute pro about it with a lot of class," Hunter-Reay said. "I commend him for that. It wasn't easy. I've been racing against Bruno for a long time and I have a lot of respect for him as a person, as a friend and as a competitor."

This type of move has happened before at Indy, but Hunter-Reay understands why some fans are angry about the swap.

"I guess the good side about it is it shows fans are passionate about this race," he said. "And I'm right there with them. Every lap I take around this place I feel like the luckiest guy in the world."

But he has bigger concerns now than worrying about whether people are mad at him.

"I've got a very big challenge," he said. "I have to prepare for the world's biggest race in one hour."

Friday is the traditional Carb Day at Indy when the cars are on the track for one final hour of practice before Sunday's race. It's a chance to fine-tune your setup. But In Hunter-Reay's case, he has 60 minutes to learn all the intricacies of a car he's never driven.

"We have to get a lot done," he said. "We have to get it dialed in, but I have a lot of great talent around me and we'll work through it. We know what we want to get out of it to start the race. I have to trust the people around me, but hopefully I have the skill sets to make the most of the situation."

Foyt's crew on the 41 car is working with Hunter-Reay's No. 28 crew to place Hunter-Reay's setup on the car before he takes the track Friday. Most of Hunter-Reay's crew will be used on pit road to try to make the transition smoother.

Hunter-Reay also has to prepare to race for Foyt, which can be a challenge at times if A.J. gets riled up.

"But A.J. and I talk at every race," Hunter-Reay said. "His perception on things is so unique. Talk to him for a half an hour and you'll learn a lot about racing."

One clear lesson this week is racing is big business, and sometimes, that's bad news for a driver.

"Everybody says this was just a money decision," Marco Andretti said. "Well, I'm sorry, but that's what our sport was built on. It costs a lot of money to do what we love to do."

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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