Column: Hinchcliffe’s Iowa win continues healing process from Indy 500 debacle

1 Comment

It may be one of the more non-descript races on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, but in a way, winning Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway was like winning the Indianapolis 500 for James Hinchcliffe.

Sure, there weren’t 250,000-plus fans in the stands – although there still was a decent crowd at the .750-mile oval in the middle of Iowa’s corn country.

And no, there wasn’t Indy’s pomp and circumstances such as “Back Home Again In Indiana” and the celebratory post-race chug of milk in victory lane.

But for a season that has been highlighted by failing to qualify for the Indy 500 – uh, err, make that a season that has been LOWLIGHTED by missing the Indy 500 – Hinchcliffe’s win Sunday was in some way as important and impactful as winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“Very good day, very good day,” Hinchcliffe said in Sunday’s post-race press conference. “The best day. You know, it’s so nice to be back up top after kind of the season that we’ve had, obviously the month of May that we had.”

If you look at Hinchcliffe’s overall season to date – minus the Indy 500 embarrassment – he hasn’t really had that bad of a year overall.

Including Sunday’s win, he now has four top-fives, eight overall top-10s and an 11th and 16th (both Belle Isle races) in the 10 races he’s qualified for.

But this has also been a season that has been marked by – and will likely forever be marked by – the ignominious disaster at Indianapolis. It’s something Hinch and his team will likely never, ever be able to shake.

That’s why Sunday’s victory, regardless of where it came at, is so very important in the overall scheme of things in 2018 for the Mayor of Hinchtown and his team.

Prior to the 500, Hinchcliffe was as high as fourth and no lower than sixth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

With Sunday’s win, he moved up from 11th (where he was since missing the 500) to eighth in the INDYCAR standings. With six races remaining, he’s still 131 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

A long shot for the championship indeed, but what a Cinderella story it Hinch uses Sunday’s triumph to become the hottest driver on the circuit going forward.

In a way, Hinchcliffe has seemed to be in somewhat of a fog since missing Indy. While he tried to put his usual positive, smiling happy face on everywhere he went, there’s no denying that missing the biggest race in the world has continued to gnaw at him and his psyche.

He’ll be the first to admit it.

“Something like what happened to this team in May can really get you down,” Hinchcliffe said. “I mean, obviously that’s our Super Bowl, our Wimbledon, our Masters all wrapped into one.

“To miss it was a huge blow for every single member of the team. I mean, I don’t know if anybody saw the NBC feature that aired before the race, but we had grown men like in tears, like a lot of them in a lot of tears on bump day there. It just shows how much it means to us.

“To not make it can very easily just get a group down and you can get despondent. You can kind of lose track of what the real goal is and lose motivation. But no one in this group suffered from that at all. If anything, it fueled us and made us want to perform better and push harder and work harder.”

Hinch had pretty much conceded Sunday’s win to Josef Newgarden, who dominated the race until Lap 258 of the 300-lap event, when somehow, some way, Hinchcliffe slipped past Newgarden and sailed on to victory – helped, of course, by a late caution that prevented the race from having one final restart.

“Josef was just so dominant, I didn’t think we had anything for him,” Hinchcliffe said. “I thought we were kind of running for second to be honest, and then that last stop, the aero crew just nailed it on the pit stop, gave us a really good change, and the car just came alive.

“Was able to put it wherever I needed to to get through traffic, and that’s the only reason I was able to catch Josef and ultimately get by him was just our ability through traffic.”

Earlier Sunday, before the race, I came across something on the web. It mentioned how July 20 will mark the 49th anniversary of man landing on the moon, and the infamous words late astronaut Neil Armstrong said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

As I began writing this column, that same phrase popped back in my mind, because it is so appropriate in Hinchcliffe’s case.

By winning Iowa, it may have been one small step for Hinch, but it also was one giant leap for him and his team to move past Indy once and for all.

Instead of dreading going back to Indy next year, now he can focus on bouncing back to win the 500, which would be one of the biggest giant leaps IndyCar racing has ever seen.

Yeah, people are going to keep talking about it until we go back, right?” Hinchcliffe said. “Even if the conversation dies for the next little while, as soon as May 1st comes around, it’s going to come back up. Yeah, for sure.

“If we just keep doing what we’ve been doing and not focus on it, and when we get back to Indy next year, not think about it, just kind of put it out of our heads, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

0 Comments

Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2