James Hinchcliffe puts in bid to keep Kawhi Leonard with Raptors

INDYCAR Photo by James Black
INDYCAR Photo by James Black

FORT WORTH, Texas – As a youngster growing up in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, Ontario, James Hinchcliffe loved his hometown teams: The long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League, the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball, and a new team that began its existence in 1995.

That would be the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association.

Originally, the NBA was a bit of a novelty in Canada’s largest city, but over time, the Raptors have been built into a NBA power. The Raptors made the NBA Finals for the first time this year and enter Wednesday night’s Game 3 tied at one game apiece against the Golden State Warriors.

The big reason the Raptors have made it to the NBA Finals is small forward Kawhi Leonard. Hinchliffe wants to make sure he stays in Toronto.

“They started this whole campaign at home about keeping Kawhi in town,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSports.com. “There are talks he might be going somewhere. That has always been our big Achilles’ heel as a team. We get these talented players and they only stay for a couple years until they get picked up by a more established club.

“A lot of people are trying to keep Kawhi with the Raps. There are restaurants in Toronto promising free food for life. Free services here, there, wherever.”

Getty PhotoAnd what is Hinchcliffe offering the NBA All-Star?

“I was going to offer that I’ll put a picture on my helmet and offer him two free passes to any IndyCar race I’m competing in for the rest of my career if he stays put.”

Despite the fact Hinchcliffe spends most of his time in Indianapolis, he remains a loyal Raptors fan.

“Like all Toronto sports, when I moved to Indianapolis, it was so much harder to follow them,” Hinchcliffe said. “I was able to stay in touch with the Raptors when they came to town and played the Indiana Pacers. I have to admit, I have been to more Pacers games the last five years that I have Raptors games – by opportunity, not by choice.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of any Toronto sporting team. I try to keep up with the Jays, the Raps and the Leafs. With the Leafs, we had an OK run this year. But to see what the Raps are doing, as far as NBA franchises go, they are still on the younger side, but to get to our first Finals in history and the way we did it, it’s pretty exciting.”

Hinchcliffe has attended over 25 games in Toronto. His first Raptors game was with his father when he was quite young.

“I remember when the team first came to Toronto – there was a public poll what to name them and the Raptors was one of the names,” Hinchcliffe said. “That was the name I really wanted. Jurassic Park had just come out and I was a big dinosaur geek when I was a kid. I was very happy when they settled on Raptors.”

The Raptors were one of two NBA squads that arrived in Canada in 1995. Six years later, the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis, Tennessee, leaving the Raptors as “Canada’s team.”

But with the Raptors’ success this year, the entire country finally seems to have embraced them as such.

“The challenge with basketball back home is we have just the one team,” Hinchcliffe said. “College sports don’t exist on the level they do in the States. If the Pacers left Indianapolis, basketball fans would follow Indiana University, Purdue, Butler – there would still be a big basketball contingent.

“In Canada, we have one baseball team and one basketball team for the entire country. It’s not like hockey. But when a team goes on a streak and a run of success like this, there is no doubt it piques interest from coast to coast.”

Still, while ‘Raptors fever’ is in the air, hockey – and the Leafs – are never far from Hinchcliffe’s mind. He’s among many fans of the Blue and White that have dealt with one heartbreak after another.

But he hasn’t given up hope.

“I still have 20 years less suffering than some other diehards because I wasn’t born the last time they won it,” Hinchcliffe said. “We are all very much behind the club. No matter what level we are playing at, Toronto has never had bandwagon fans when it comes to hockey.

“They have always been diehards.”

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
High Limit Racing - Twitter

It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway