INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Hunter-Reay nearly ran into the infield grass to pass Helio Castroneves with one lap to go Sunday, the deciding move that won the 98th Indianapolis 500 in the race's second-closest finish.
"I made the right move at the right time," said Hunter-Reay, who won by 0.06 seconds.
Hunter-Reay, 33, the 2012 IndyCar series champion, became the first American winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since Sam Hornish in 2006.
"I was just going for it," he said. "Those final laps? It was just nuts."
Hunter-Reay was born in Dallas but grew up in Boca Raton and resides in Fort Lauderdale.
"I'm a proud American boy, that's for sure," Hunter-Reay said in Victory Lane before he was joined by his wife and son. "I've watched this race since I was sitting in diapers on the floor in front of the TV. My son did it today. He watched me here. I'm thrilled. This is American history, this race, this is American tradition."
He kept Penske Racing's Castroneves from joining A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser as the race's only four-time winners.
"There is a small difference between stupidity and bravery, and we were right on the edge of that," Castroneves said.
Hunter-Reay said: "It's brave just holding on to one of these 230 mph IndyCars out in traffic. But I don't think what I did went into the realm of bravery."
Marco Andretti finished third, extending his family's wait to etch its name on the Borg-Warner Trophy to 45 years since his grandfather Mario earned his lone Indy win in 1969.
But Mario's son and Marco's father, Michael Andretti, won the race for the third time as a car owner, and his cars owned much of the day. Andretti Autosport cars took three of the top four spots, with Carlos Munoz fourth.
Juan Montoya, the 2000 Indy winner, was fifth followed by NASCAR's Kurt Busch and St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais, who had his career-best Indy finish.
"I had a car that was maybe capable of more," Busch told his car owner, Michael Andretti, after the race. "I'm sure the car was a top-five car. But all in all, I'm very pleased. My throat's really dry because I was smiling the whole time, and fresh air was coming into my mouth."
Within 10 minutes after the checkered flag, Busch was in a helicopter, on his way to the Indianapolis airport and then on to Concord, N.C., for NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600.
Hunter-Reay's average speed (186.563 mph) was the second-fastest in the race's history. Only a late crash near the end, and a subsequent red-flag stoppage for cleanup, prevented him from breaking the record of 187.433 set last year by Tony Kanaan.
The first 149 laps were run without a caution, but a series of accidents took out contenders such as 2008 winner Scott Dixon, pole-sitter Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe. No injuries were reported.
The restart after the red flag, following Townsend Bell's wreck, set up a wild six-lap dash.
But, Hunter-Reay thought, "It was mine to lose."
Hunter-Reay led when the green flag waved on Lap 195 of 200, but Castroneves slipped past. The order was reversed the next lap as Hunter-Reay made a bold move, and the lead changed yet again on Lap 198. Then came Hunter-Reay's memorable pass.
"I had never run that line," he said of his move onto the apron. "Not all month, not in practice. That was all new. I didn't know if it would stick."
Castroneves said: "I thought I didn't leave him any room. But once he put his nose inside, there was nothing I could do."
The closest Indy 500 finish was in 1992, when Al Unser Jr. edged Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds.
On a day when actor Jim Nabors sung Back Home Again in Indiana in prerace ceremonies for the last time — having done so nearly every year since 1972 — another American with appreciation for Indy's traditions broke through in his seventh 500 start.
"It is a dream come true," Hunter-Reay said. "It hasn't really sunk in yet. But the dream has finally come true here today."