James Hinchcliffe scores first oval win in Iowa romp

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One could argue that Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 turned out to be simply “Hinch-tacular.”

James Hinchcliffe took the lead on the opening lap of the race and went on to dominate and score his first career IZOD IndyCar Series win on an oval. The Canadian, who now has three wins in 2013, led 226 of 250 laps en route to a 1.5-second triumph over Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay in the team’s fourth consecutive victory at the 7/8-mile bullring.

“It all goes to the team – we have a great track record here,” Hinchcliffe told ESPN in Victory Lane. “But this year with so many things and this being a day race, everything was different. We took a bit of a risk. We wanted to make sure the car wasn’t going to understeer because that kills you in traffic.

“I can’t believe we led that whole thing…I’m a little bit nervous because my family’s not here and my girlfriend’s not here, and I feel like I’m gonna get in trouble [because] I won without them here.”

If not for Hinchcliffe’s tour-de-force performance, Hunter-Reay may have been considered for “drive of the day” honors. After a sub-par run in qualifying, the reigning IndyCar champion fell back to 21st – the last car on the lead lap – after making early contact with Graham Rahal that forced him into the pits for a new nosecone on his car.

But with plenty of time to make up for it, the American pilot steadily rose through the field and was actually closing in on Hinchcliffe until he hit a cluster of lapped traffic with eight laps to go. Still, his runner-up result could eventually prove massive in his battle to defend the IndyCar crown.

“I worked so hard to catch back up to James and then lapped traffic – it’s one thing if you’re a lap down but if you’re five or six laps down, you’re just making it tough on the leaders,” Hunter-Reay told ESPN. “We definitely had the car to win today, just made a mistake there trying to get by Graham. I kept my foot in it, but the front [end] had no grip on it when I turned to pop out and pass him. Easy mistake.

“We had a tough weekend, so to come second in this thing, I’m pretty pleased with that.”

Tony Kanaan, who started Andretti’s current four-race win streak at Iowa back in 2010, finished third for KV Racing Technology ahead of Ed Carpenter in fourth and Rahal in fifth.

Pole sitter Helio Castroneves had a steady day, finishing eighth after having to start 11th following an engine penalty. He managed to keep the championship lead over Hunter-Reay, but saw his edge drop to nine points as the series prepares for Pocono on July 7.

Castroneves won nine points on Saturday for earning the pole position in the final heat race that determined today’s starting grid; Hunter-Reay failed to advance out of his preliminary heat.

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski