DES MOINES, Iowa — The finale of last year's IndyCar race in Iowa showed what Ryan Hunter-Reay can do when he is in peak form.
Powered by four fresh tires, Hunter-Reay blew past half the field in just 10 laps to become the only active driver with multiple wins on Iowa's short oval.
A similar showing this weekend would help erase some of the sting of a rough season. The 2012 series champion who has finished seventh or better each year since 2010 heads to Newton mired in 14th place in what has been a lackluster and frustrating season.
The No. 28 Andretti Autosport car hasn't collected a podium finish all year and it has finished 13th or worse in each of the last four races.
"It's been a real struggle. It's been a challenge," Hunter-Reay said.
It's not hard to pinpoint why Hunter-Reay is on pace for his worst season since 2009, when he finished 15th in the standings. He is driving a Honda this season — and the Hondas have been nowhere near as competitive as the cars powered by Chevrolet.
Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti are the only Honda drivers in the top 10, as teams have struggled to consistently find packages that will allow them to push for wins.
"Our setups haven't jived with the new aero kit. So when we show up for a race weekend we have to turn everything upside down, basically," Hunter-Reay said. "It's frustrating. You have to keep a cool head about it, be professional and get on with the job."
Hunter-Reay can take solace in knowing that he and his Andretti Autosport teammates have dominated in Iowa, winning six of eight races. But Hunter-Reay said it's tough to be "overly optimistic" about Saturday night's race because of the recent struggles.
He has finished in the top 10 only once since April, and two of his last three races have ended prematurely. Hunter-Reay's brakes helped end the race for him in Toronto and he was involved in a crash at Fontana.
Still, Hunter-Reay isn't blaming all of his issues on the car.
"You'll hear drivers say that you're only as good as the car you're driving. There's a big gray area there," he said. "As a driver, you need to take an underachieving setup on a given weekend, and if you can make what is an 11th-place car finish ninth, that's a small victory. There have been some weekends when I feel like I've achieved to the potential of the car, and other weekends when we've fallen short. All in all though, I just haven't been able to get in the groove with this car."
If there's one advantage Hunter-Reay has as the only active two-time winner at Iowa, it's that he knows what a winning car feels like on new tires, old tires and in traffic on this tricky oval.
But when asked if racing at Iowa for him was like to a basketball player shooting in his own gym, Hunter offered a telling response for what's been a difficult season.
"It's similar to our situation except they've changed the size of the ball a little bit, modified the court size and changed the height of the rim. That's the difference," Hunter-Reay said.
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