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Indy win still fresh for Hunter-Reay

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Ryan Hunter-Reay described his final four-lap, cat-and-mouse game to determine Sunday's Indianapolis 500 as two drivers constantly on the "verge of stupidity and bravery," desperately trying to outduel the other.

"We were on that line," said Hunter-Reay, whose face now adorns the Borg-Warner Trophy, the trophy belonging to the champions of the Indianapolis 500.

Few are as comfortable driving on it as Hunter-Reay, even at 220 mph. He knows all about it.

He's swerved a bit on that line, inching close to the stupidity parts at times -- some would argue his late-race pass attempt at Long Beach in April fit that bill. Then, Hunter-Reay tried to squeeze his car through a small opening in a part of the street course where passing is an extreme challenge. It didn't work, as the seven-car pileup proved.

But he's turned the wheel toward the bravery side, too, while trying to straddle that line. You have to be brave -- maybe also even a little arrogant and cocky -- to try what in many ways was the same move a month later. Hunter-Reay saw that same opening and drove his car around Helio Castroneves, eventually holding off the three-time Indy 500 champion to drink the milk in Victory Lane.

Hunter-Reay is still taking victory laps from the win, flying down to Fort Worth on Wednesday for a luncheon at Joe T. Garcia's in the Stockyards as part of a publicity tour for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 7. He had his wife, Beccy, and 1-year-old son, Ryden, with him as well, still celebrating the biggest win of his career.

It was one that less than eight years ago seemed unthinkable. Hunter-Reay was without a ride, losing sponsorship after the 2005 season.

"I remember laying at my apartment, looking at the ceiling and thinking, 'I'm going to have to go back to college and take a different direction in life,'" Hunter-Reay said. "I went a whole year there without a ride. It was a long period off."

There he was, again in that area between stupidity and bravery as he tried as best he could to keep his dream of open-wheel racing alive.

Bobby Rahal found a car for Hunter-Reay to drive in the middle of the 2007 season and he was in that car all of 2008, when he finished sixth at the Indy 500 as a rookie there.

In some ways, Indianapolis has defined Hunter-Reay. He was the kid who had posters on his walls of famous Indy car drivers, hoping to one day do what they were doing. He dreamed of drenching his clothes in milk and kissing the bricks.

He never forgot the disappointment of getting bumped from the Indy 500 field in 2011 by teammate Marco Andretti, missing out on the big race.

"That was the kick-start our team needed," Hunter-Reay said.

But it wasn't until last May, when he found himself in the lead at the Indy 500 on the final restart, that he thought he could win the race he wanted most. Tony Kanaan passed him and it wasn't meant to be, but Hunter-Reay knew he and his team were capable.

Still, it's the driver who must make the ultimate call when the race is at its deciding point. Sometimes that means being willing to accept that you might look stupid when you attempt to be brave.

So there he was again, edging his car to the outside, waiting for Castroneves to inch up to try to block and then quickly shifting to the inside, even knowing that he could nip the grass and end his hopes of winning the Indy 500.

"That's my driving style," Hunter-Reay said. "I'll always go for it."

The move worked and Hunter-Reay made his dream a reality. And you know what? It was even better than he imagined.

"What really got me was how many people stuck around just to wave to us when we took the victory lap in the Camaro," Hunter-Reay said. "That was amazing. There had to be 150,000 people still in there."

Hunter-Reay joked that when he wakes up from naps, he still thinks: "I won the Indianapolis 500."

He was brave enough to make it happen.