FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Ryan Hunter-Reay already has a victory in his six races this season for Andretti Autosport. He is the highest-ranked driver on the team that also has former IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick.
"He's been great for our team. He fits right in, the other drivers love him," team owner Michael Andretti said. "He's putting in the results in the races as well, he's just done such a great job. I couldn't have asked for anything more so far."
And yet, the Andretti team might not be able to keep Hunter-Reay in the cockpit after Saturday night's race at Texas. There is a lack of sponsorship to keep the No. 37 car funded for the rest of the season.
"It's coming down to crunch time now," said Hunter-Reay, the rising 29-year-old American driver who is fifth in season points. "There is some optimism there, but we're not getting ahead of ourselves. It could be my last race, and we could potentially keep racing. ... I just don't know."
Hunter-Reay is the only driver to win an Indy race this season not racing for Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi. But Hunter-Reay qualified 24th in the 26-car field at the high-banked 1½-mile Texas track, where those other winning teams fill the top five spots on the starting grid.
Ryan Briscoe, who led 160 laps at Texas last summer before Penske teammate Helio Castroneves overtook him after two late cautions, earned the pole with a lap of 215.273 mph. It his second pole this season, the 10th of his career, and the seventh in seven races this season for Penske.
Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti from Target Chip Ganassi Racing starts on the outside of the front row. The last two Indy winners have also won at Texas the same year — Castroneves last year and Ganassi driver Scott Dixon in 2008.
Penske driver Will Power starts third, ahead of Dixon and Castroneves.
Andretti said it has been difficult trying to get new sponsorship money for Hunter-Reay's car in a still-challenged economy, and during the middle of the budget year for most companies and organizations.
"For a young driver of Ryan Hunter-Reay's ability and talent to not have a steady ride is ludicrous," said three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, a Fort Worth native and the IndyCar's pace car driver.
"It's almost easier for us right now to talk about next year than it is the rest of this year. There's all types of challenges that we've got going with this right now," Andretti said. "Having said that, I think we still have a shot at putting something together. We're still working."
Hunter-Reay is driving this weekend with a carbon-fiber splint protecting his left thumb that was hurt on pit road at the Indianapolis 500 last Sunday, then surgically repaired the next day before he attended the banquet still feeling the affects of the anesthesia.
On Tuesday, he was back at the hospital visiting Mike Conway, who is expected to miss at least three months with leg and back injuries after a spectacular last-lap crash when he was going about 220 mph and couldn't avoid running into the back of Hunter-Reay, whose car was already low on fuel and started sputtering. The contact sent Conway airborne and into the catch fence.
"We had a good talk," Hunter-Reay said. "I hate to see him laid up like that."
IndyCar officials announced after qualifying Friday that Conway had been released from the hospital in Indianapolis.
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing hired Tomas Scheckter to replace Conway in Texas. Scheckter qualified 18th in the No. 24 car.
Hunter-Reay was the runner-up to Power in the season opener in March. He had a dominating victory at Long Beach when he led 64 of 85 laps, and was fifth at Kansas before finishing 18th at Indy.
"At the beginning of the year, I just wanted to go out there and show them what we can do every weekend, and then see where we end up after Texas," he said. "We're ahead of schedule right now. We've already won a race together, and we finished second, and we're top five in the championship. All the goals have been reached."
Now he has to wait and see if there will be any more racing after this weekend.
"Hopefully we'll be able to continue our run," Hunter-Reay said. "We've got a whole lot of potential."