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Podcast: James Hinchcliffe might find a silver lining in disguise at Indy after ‘an emotional roller coaster’

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INDIANAPOLIS – No one could blame James Hinchcliffe for going incognito at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and he might do exactly that on the eve of the Indianapolis 500.

But it won’t be because the SPM driver is bummed about missing the biggest race of the IndyCar season. Actually, it’s because the crushing disappointment of getting bumped from the field a week ago might have a silver lining.

“I’ve heard all these stories from way back when to the present day of what it’s like just outside the speedway on Saturday night before the race,” Hinchcliffe said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that was recorded and released Saturday. “Up Georgetown (Road), in the Coke Lot, you hear all these crazy stories about all these crazy parties and the rest of it.

“And honestly, we’re always isolated in our little bubble inside the speedway in the drivers lot. Part of me is tempted to dress up in disguise and just venture out there and see what it’s all about. I’m very tempted to do that and maybe document some of the exploits out there.”

And if Hinchcliffe lingers well into the night? Well, it’s not as if he has a 500-mile race to worry about Sunday.

“I know the (track’s) cannon is going to go off at 6 a.m. (Sunday) and wake us up, but I have fewer responsibilities tomorrow than most of my colleagues,” the Canadian said with a laugh.

Of course, it still has been one of the longer weeks in the life of a 31-year-old who is ranked fifth in the points standing and seemed on track for a career season. Before Indy, Hinchcliffe’s average finish in the first five races was 5.8, including a third at Barber Motorsports Park.

But the momentum screeched to a halt when his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was knocked out of the field in the closing hour of the opening day of qualifying at the Brickyard last Saturday.

Hinchcliffe gamely accepted the outcome with a series of graceful interviews shortly afterward and has maintained a brave face during a week of promotional appearances

“It’s been an up and down week,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. The term good days and bad days doesn’t even apply. You have good hours and bad hours.

“The busier I’m keeping myself, the better I’m feeling. There were times you have that little driver tantrum in your head like, ‘I don’t want to do any of this stuff because I’m in a bad mood! And blah, blah blah.’ But talking about it helps you get over it, and staying busy takes your mind off it a little bit.”

Still, there is no escaping the reality of when the green flag falls on the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“Sunday is probably going to suck,” he said. “There’s no way around that. The start of the race is really going to suck. Then when I see how hard it is out there, I might think it sucks a little less.”

It has been easier to swallow because of “fan support that has just been completely overwhelming,” and Hinchcliffe of course has a perspective about Indianapolis that few have after a near-fatal practice crash in 2015 (“(Missing the race) actually wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”).

His comeback from the brush with death brought his team closer together, and he’s hoping the latest spate of adversity will do the same.

“One of the hardest parts was just being back with the crew right afterward, getting back to the garage and seeing a group of like 10 grown men literally brought to tears over what just happened,” said Hinchcliffe, whose team misjudged the amount of time left in the session after a tire vibration problem quickly ended what would be his final attempt. “It shows you how much this race means. If we had a really bad crash at Detroit on Saturday morning and couldn’t get the car fixed in time for Sunday. We’d all be like, ‘Man that really sucks. We’ll fix the car and come back next week.’

“But not getting to start Indy, man, is just such a gut punch for these guys and for all of us. But at the same time, it brought us closer as a group. There were mistakes made that we’re going to learn from. There’s no doubt that we come back as a stronger unit because of this. Emotionally, from a preparation point of view, from an execution point of view.”

There was a jolt of positivity from a second-place finish in a pit stop competition Friday. Hinchcliffe’s team, which has posted the fastest pit stop in two races this season, fell to Scott Dixon’s team in the final after pulling out a surprise victory over Will Power’s crew from the non-preferred right lane in the semifinals.

“Even if we beat Dixon in the finals, it wouldn’t have felt as good as that win did,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was such an awesome performance. The guys have been killing it in the pits. It’s definitely a point of pride for us.

“It was fun to get back in the car and do something for the fans and do something for the boys. We won a check at the end of the day. Add it to the beer fund and go have a fun Sunday night.”

Other topics discussed in the podcast:

–How and why he became a popular star by learning how to showcase his affable personality early in his career;

–Why the IndyCar Series needs a driver to play the villain role;

–An expanded explanation of why he believes the Indianapolis 500 should be separate from the championship;

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or play the Art19 embed below:

MRTI: Road America Saturday notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Saturday at Road America saw all three series of the Mazda Road to Indy complete in action again, with the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires concluding its weekend with Race 2, while the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda completing their opening races of the weekend.

Indy Lights saw its two main title combatants duel for the win, while Pro Mazda saw its Race 1 winner complete a weekend sweep. And in USF2000, the points leader continued a run of dominance on the way to victory.

Reports on all three series are below.

Indy Lights: Herta Outlasts O’Ward, Franzoni for Race 1 Win

Colton Herta celebrates winning Race 1 at Road America.

Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta took his fourth win in a row on Saturday at Road America, winning Race 1 after dueling with his Andretti Autosport stablemate Pato O’Ward and Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni.

Franzoni held the lead off the initial start, but Herta quickly worked his way up to second after starting third, and immediately mounted a challenge for the lead. After trying to pass Franzoni on the outside entering Turn 5 for two laps in a row, Herta finally was able to get around him on a third attempt, again taking the outside line on corner entry.

O’Ward then quickly moved into second after Franzoni dipped two wheels into the dirt in Turn 7, and O’Ward quickly charged toward Herta to battle for the lead. He, too, tried several times to pass Herta on the outside entering Turn 5, but was ultimately unable to do so and lost ground to Herta after he ran out of push-to-pass.

It left Herta alone up front to cruise to the win, his fourth in a row in 2018. O’Ward and Franzoni finished second and third, with the Belardi Auto Racing teammates Santi Urrutia and Aaron Telitz finishing fourth and fifth, with Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett rounding out the field for Andretti Autosport.

Results are below. Race 1 will roll off at 10:50 a.m. on Sunday morning and will air at 10:00 p.m. ET on Sunday night. Pato O’Ward will start on the pole.

Pro Mazda: Malukas Completes Road America Sweep

David Malukas was in perfect form again in Race 2 at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

BN Racing’s David Malukas capped a perfect weekend at Road America by winning Race 2 from the pole.

Malukas did face a brief challenge from Juncos Racing’s Carlos Cunha off the start, with Cunha actually leading briefly into Turn 1. But, Malukas quickly retook the lead entering Turn 3, and was never headed from there.

Behind him, points leader Parker Thompson was involved in contact with Raul Guzman in Turn 5, with Guzman, making his Pro Mazda debut with RP Motorsport Racing, hitting the back of the Exclusive Autosport.

Guzman stalled on course, bringing out a full-course caution, while Thompson fell back as far as 12th when racing resumed on Lap 3. However, he quickly regrouped and put in maybe the best drive of the day, working his way up to fifth in the closing laps – including a pass on title rival Carlos Cunha – and putting him right behind a battle for third involving Rinus VeeKay, Thompson’s other title rival, and Harrison Scott.

Scott eventually passed VeeKay for third, which opened the door for Thompson, who got around VeeKay right after to take fourth.

Thompson was unable to get close enough to challenge Scott for third, but his charge to fourth remained mighty impressive.

Up front, though, no one had anything for Malukas, who led teammate Toby Sowery in a second straight 1-2 for BN Racing – Sowery made a slick three-wide pass to get around VeeKay and Cunha on the Lap 3 restart.

Scott was third, followed by Thompson and VeeKay in fourth and fifth, with Cunha finishing sixth.

Results are below. The race also featured a tribute to the late Jeff Green, a former Pro Mazda driver with Juncos. Peter Dempsey, part of the Juncos effort on the engineering side last year, drove Green’s No. 60 chassis from 2017, while Victory Franzoni piloted his No. 23 Dallara IL-15 alongside.

USF2000: Kirkwood Continues to Roll as He Dominates USF2000 Race 1

Kyle Kirkwood celebrates winning USF2000 Race 1 at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Cape Motorsports’ Kyle Kirkwood continued his dominant run in USF2000 by winning Race 1 on Saturday.

Starting on the outside of the front row, Kirkwood got around pole sitter Rasmus Lindh, from Pabst Racing Services, on the outside entering Turn 1 and never looked back, leading all 12 laps on his way to victory.

Lindh, meanwhile, was involved in a heated battle for second with his Pabst teammate Kaylen Frederick, along with ArmsUp Motorsports’ Keith Donegan and DEForce Racing’s Kory Enders. Lindh eventually fell back as far as fifth following a bobble, allowing all four to get by, though he did get back around Enders for fourth.

Ultimately, though, Frederick and Donegan emerged to finish second and third – it’s the second straight podium for Frederick, and the first for Donegan – with Lindh and Enders rounding out the top five.

The race was slowed twice for incidents involving Sabre Cook. Cook, running with Team Benik, spun into the gravel trap in the Carousel on Lap 3, but was able to rejoin. Later, on Lap 11, she ran wide exiting Turn 7 and spun back across the track as she entered Hurry Downs, making contact with the wall on the outside just before the entrance of Turn 8.

Cook climbed from the car under her own power, though her race did come to a premature end.

Results are below. Race 2 rolls off at 9:00 a.m. ET (8:00 a.m. local time), with Lindh again starting on the pole.

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