Hinchcliffe makes most of ‘mulligan’ in Indy 500 qualifications

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INDIANAPOLIS – When INDYCAR President Jay Frye added a “Last Row Shootout” to Indianapolis 500 qualifications, it was designed to give teams and drivers that had bad luck on Saturday an extra chance to make good.

In golf, it’s called, a “Mulligan.”

At the Indianapolis 500, it should have been named the “Hinchcliffe Rule.”

Last year, Hinchcliffe picked the wrong day to have a bad day in Indy 500 qualifications. He was bumped out of the field by Conor Daly but remained confident he could easily get back into the race with another qualification attempt. But when he went out, his car suffered a bad vibration that brought him back to the pits.

The issue was corrected, Hinchcliffe got back in the tech line, but the qualification time ended before he got a chance to make another attempt as Pippa Mann was still on track when the gun sounded to end qualifications.

The most popular driver in the NTT IndyCar Series was left out of the starting lineup and he vowed that would never happen again.

But it did.

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During his first qualification attempt on Saturday, Hinchcliffe’s car slammed into the Turn 2 wall on the second lap of his four-lap attempt. The Arrow Honda was damaged, and the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew quickly prepared the backup.

Hinchcliffe made a few attempts late in the day but could not get the car up to speed to make the top 30. That put him in a group of six drivers vying for the final three positions in the 33-car starting lineup in Sunday’s “Last Row Shootout.”

Rain delayed the schedule 12:15 p.m. Shootout to 4:30 p.m. Hinchcliffe was the first of the six drivers to make an attempt and his four-lap average was 227.543 miles per hour.

He had to wait to see if three of the five remaining drivers could top that speed. The only driver out of that group that went faster was Sage Karam, who qualified at 227.740 mph over four laps.

When Kyle Kaiser was the last of the six drivers to make an attempt, he bumped Fernando Alonso from the field and Hinchcliffe had made the race.

He will start 32ndin Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500.

INDYCAR Photo“I just want to say congrats to the other guys that made it in and comprised the last row,” Hinchcliffe said. “And just my heart goes out to the ones that didn’t make it, to Max (Chilton), Pato (O’Ward) and Fernando (Alonso). We all know how much goes into this race and how much this means to everybody, and I’ve been on the other side of this a year ago, so I know how much it sucks. I hate that we have to send guys home today.

“When I got out of the Med Center, I told everybody there’s no way we’re getting back on track yesterday. It just shows what I know. Everybody on Arrow Schmidt Peterson rolled up their sleeves and went to work, and we had the backup car out on track two and a half hours later, which is just incredible.

“It’s a road course car, it wasn’t really built for speedways, it didn’t have all the trick bits on it. But being able to get out there with enough time left to do three runs gave us a lot of information, a lot of data that we could kind of look at overnight and spend long nights working on the car trying to make sure we had the speed today, and man, it’s a nerve-racking feeling knowing that you only have one shot to get it done at this point, and with the weather moving in and being first, that was the same thing that happened to us last year, which was certainly not lost on anybody in the garage.

“Ultimately everybody at Arrow Schmidt Peterson, we took some parts off Marcus Ericsson’s car, everybody from Honda that pitched in to get us in there, man, it’s crazy. It’s way more dramatic.

“I’m getting too old for this stuff. I need a week off now, but we’ve got to be back in the cars tomorrow.”

Hinchcliffe’s situation is perfect proof at why Frye’s idea to give teams and drivers that had trouble on Saturday, one last chance to make the 33-car starting lineup, was a great idea.

“I liked it (the format) before, but I really like it now,” Hinchcliffe said. “What happened to us was weird. In a lot of ways what happened to us last year was part of the reason that rule was created and what happened to us this year is exactly the kind of situation that benefits from it.

“We got a car back on track yesterday, and had it been the old rules, we would have had three more chances and we just would not have got in. We’d be sitting here 365 days later in the same seat we were a year prior, which would have been just devastating.

“For me I think it’s great. It does add a little bit of drama. I think as long as we have enough cars to make it a cool session, which today we did, and — I mean, it was close.

“Good job, man, that was crazy. I was nervous. But yeah, no, I think it’s a cool thing. Hopefully the fans enjoyed it, and it kind of made today a little extra special for everybody.”

After getting a “Mulligan” after Saturday’s crash, Hinchcliffe delivered on Sunday by hitting it, “straight down the fairway.”

Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”