Hinchcliffe wins hearts, but ends runner-up, on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

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Let’s face it – James Hinchcliffe has come a long way from being the guy who used to make homemade YouTube videos featuring bratwursts and novelty size checks nearly a decade ago.

The likable, entertaining and talented-as-all-get-out Canadian, who turns 30 next month, and his professional dancing partner Sharna Burgess ended as runners-up on Season 23 of “Dancing with the Stars,” in the season finale show held Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

Laurie Hernandez, 16, became the youngest champion in the show’s history along with her professional dance partner Val Chmerkovskiy – more here on the Rio Olympics gold medal-winning gymnast from NBC Olympic Talk. Calvin Johnson, the retired Detroit Lions wide receiver, and professional partner Lindsay Arnold finished third.

And for a guy who self-deprecatingly notes his career as driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series sees him “sit for a living,” and who’d never danced at all prior to this run of events, it was still one heck of an accomplishment.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 22: Professional dancer Sharna Burgess and professional race car driver James Hinchcliffe attends ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" Season 23 Finale at The Grove on November 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 22: Professional dancer Sharna Burgess and professional race car driver James Hinchcliffe attends ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” Season 23 Finale at The Grove on November 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

All season, Hinchcliffe and Burgess bonded, with Burgess’ choreography producing some incredible dances throughout the year. She was gutted to miss a couple weeks due to a knee injury, but Jenna Johnson filled in well as Hinchcliffe’s interim dance partner. A “Suicide Squad” themed Viennese Waltz they did for Halloween was one of the season’s highlights.

Hinchcliffe’s rapid development and growth drew rave reviews from the professional judges, with Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar rival and past DWTS champion Helio Castroneves’ dance partner Julianne Hough at one point calling Hinchcliffe the most talented male dancer in the show’s history.

While Hinchcliffe didn’t have the pedigree of dancing and moving quite like Hernandez, a professional gymnast who entered with a distinct experience advantage, he made it further than most thought possible thanks in large part to Burgess’ tutelage and his own adaptability to different dances, styles and performance types.

Those of us that follow IndyCar on a full-time basis know what an entertainer and a talent Hinchcliffe is, and it was great to see a significantly wider audience exposed to that throughout this season.

Hinchcliffe will be on a teleconference later Wednesday afternoon for a reflection on the season just passed.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.