WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — Ryan Hunter-Reay never seemed too worried about his future with Andretti Autosport. The Indianapolis 500 winner can focus on more pressing matters now that he has a three-year contract extension.
There are just three weeks left on the IndyCar schedule for Hunter-Reay to pass Will Power and Helio Castroneves and claim a second series championship in three seasons.
A smiling Hunter-Reay and team owner Michael Andretti formally signed the paperwork for the extension in front of cameras before Sunday’s race at the Milwaukee Mile. DHL also announced it would remain the primary sponsor of Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 car another three years.
“It’s one thing off the mind. To go into the offseason knowing that I’ve got a three-year commitment is excellent,” said Hunter-Reay, who has been with Andretti since 2010.
He last signed an extension in 2012.
“It’s a really big day for Andretti Autosport,” the owner said.
The race itself turned out to be a disappointment. Hunter-Reay’s day ended after 168 laps because of suspension problems. He dropped one spot in the points race to fourth, but now trails leader and Mile winner Will Power by 108 points.
“I love this place. It wasn’t exactly the balance we wanted and this is probably our championship hopes going up in smoke right now,” Hunter-Reay said.
It has still been a momentous two years for the 33-year-old Hunter-Reay. After winning the 2012 championship, Hunter-Reay became a father for the first time that December.
This past May, Hunter-Reay became the first American in eight years to win at the Brickyard. DHL said that victory was a big factor in extending its sponsorship agreement.
“Life has changed a lot,” Hunter-Reay said. “Certainly from the beginning of 2012 to the end of 2014, it has been a great run, and hopefully that will continue. You’ve got to ride the wave as much as you can, with the right people to do it, though.”
With wins the previous two years at the Mile, Hunter-Reay already had fond memories of Milwaukee. On Sunday, he started in the second-to-last row in 19th position — the same spot from which he started before winning at Indy.
Hunter-Reay holds 14 wins in 166 IndyCar starts entering Sunday, including 81 top-10 finishes.
Also Sunday, Andretti said having NASCAR driver Kurt Busch return for next year’s Indianapolis 500 remained a possibility. Busch’s sixth-place finish this year for Andretti was impressive for his first Indy 500.
“I’d love to do it again if we can get things worked out,” Andretti said.
Andretti was eager to see what walk-up ticket sales would be like for Sunday’s race. He took over as promoter in a last-minute effort in 2012 after the race was initially left off that year’s schedule because of financial difficulties. Andretti Autosport is running the event through 2015.
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can continue to build it and by next year to be able to say, ‘OK, we can continue this thing.‘ That’s our goal.”