Hunter-Reay needs $3.2 million to finish season

As the calendar turns to May and the Indianapolis 500 approaches, an Izod IndyCar Series star-in-the-making wonders if he'll be driving much past month's end.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, one of the few U.S.-born drivers in this series and the winner of its most recent race, doesn't have sponsorship to stay with Andretti Autosport beyond the June 5 race at Texas Motor Speedway.

He figures to be about $3.2 million short, and he's getting nervous. So is his boss.

"He can win a championship," Michael Andretti said Friday at Kansas Speedway, site of today's first oval race of the season. "It will rip our hearts out if we have to pull him out of the car (after) Texas."

Hunter-Reay, 29, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is doing everything he can. He won last month's street course race in Long Beach, Calif., and stands third in the points standings. He is four positions higher than his next-closest teammate — 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan — and has 62 more points than another high-profile teammate, Danica Patrick.

Hunter-Reay has the unwavering support of Izod, which sponsors his car, but Andretti said Izod officials have told him they have committed all the money they can. So has the team.

"I'm maxed out," said Andretti, who bought full control of the team in November. "I can't carry this through the rest of the season."

Andretti said it costs about $400,000 per race to compete at the highest level, which means $4 million is needed to continue after Texas. IndyCar guarantees full-time cars about $80,000 per race, which would provide $800,000.

In an ironic twist, A1GP champion Adam Carroll signed with Andretti's team this week because he has the sponsorship Hunter-Reay lacks.

"It wouldn't be good to have this end, especially if we're in the top three in the championship," Hunter-Reay said. "But it's never good."

It's familiar, however.

[Editor's Note: Familiar indeed. With anemic TV ratings on Versus and most American sponsorship dollars going to NASCAR, IndyCar drivers only get the crumbs left over. And to think, before the split CART had twice the annual sponsorship dollars that the NASCAR paddock had…..per Joyce Julius reports.]

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