It’s a pleasant May in Indy, but it still feels ‘bizarre’ for James Hinchcliffe

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It’s May in Indianapolis, but for James Hinchcliffe, something naturally feels amiss as a resident of the city that won’t have its beloved world-famous race this month.

“It’s so bizarre,” Hinchcliffe said during a Tuesday interview on “Lunch Talk Live” with host Mike Tirico. “I live in Indianapolis, I know it’s just down the street, but it’s crazy to think you’re spending all this time rather than at the racetrack.

“I’ve never sat in my backyard around the pool in May before. You’re always stressed out at the track in engineering meetings, living out of the bus, so you miss a lot of what May really means because this town and this city, they really do get behind the race from the minute the calendar strikes May 1 and missing some of that stuff, even when the race does happen in August, it’s not going to be quite the same, but it’s still Indy.”

‘BACK HOME AGAIN’: NBC special will celebrate last year’s Indy 500 thriller

STILL RACE WEEK IN INDY: It’s the #500atHome

The 104th running of the rescheduled Indianapolis 500 will be held Aug. 23 on NBC, which will be revisiting the highlights of last year’s race Sunday. Tirico will be the host of “Back Home Again” as 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud and runner-up Alexander Rossi revisit their epic battle.

There is an IndyCar race on the horizon, though, as Texas Motor Speedway finally will open the 2020 season June 6 after a nearly three-month pause because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Unlike NASCAR, which hit the track Sunday at Darlington Raceway without practice or qualifying, IndyCar will have a full warmup (on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold) leading into the green flag at Texas – which will mark the first race since Laguna Seca Raceway last September.

“For the most part everyone’s racecraft is going to to be a bit rusty, and we’re going to one of the most daunting places in Texas Motor Speedway,” Hinchcliffe said. “So the challenges for us are going to be just getting us up to speed. It’s a very difficult track, and the margins for error are small, and the cost of error are quite high.

“Again, it’s going to be a game of patience. We have an hour and a half of practice straight into qualifying and the race. There are a bunch of rookies that have never raced at Texas. There’s one driver (rookie Alex Palou) that has yet to turn a lap in either testing or practice at Texas. It’s going to be a learning experience in a lot of ways.”

It’ll be a good experience for Hinchcliffe, who will be racing at Texas with Andretti Autosports (along with the Indy 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course July 4) after originally expecting to be working as an IndyCar on NBC analyst in the since postponed March 15 opener at St. Petersburg, Florida (which has been moved to the season finale on Oct. 25).

The Canadian is looking forward to be “suited and booted” at Texas instead of fully on camera as he’d been preparing to do at St. Pete with mixed emotions.

“It was tough; I was getting a little bit of FOMO,” Hinchcliffe said. “Definitely wanted to be on the grid, but at the same time, I was really embracing this new opportunity with NBC Sports Network.

“I’d done a ton of research and a ton of prep, and it’s kind of a baptism by fire situation. You have to learn on the job in a lot of ways. So I was excited to get started and get my feet wet there. I’ll obviously still get that opportunity at some point later in the season now. It’s cool to know for Race 1 at least, it’ll be with helmet instead of a microphone, and then we’ll switch gears back to the other job.”

IndyCar: Tony Kanaan’s ‘Last Lap’ begins at Texas Motor Speedway

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The streak lives for Tony Kanaan. At least for one more race.

With Kanaan running only ovals during his farewell IndyCar season in 2020 – which has been dubbed the “Last Lap” – his record streak of 317 consecutive Indy-car starts was to end with the season opener March 15 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Fate had other plans. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the postponement of St. Pete (now the season finale in October) amid the shutdown of American sports.

IndyCar has made multiple changes to its 2020 schedule since then, and as a result, Kanaan is getting an opportunity to extend his “Ironman” streak.

The 2004 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner is set for career start No. 318 on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway – driving the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet alongside the team’s new full-season driver, Charlie Kimball, in the No. 4 Chevy.

“A lot of people ask me how I coped with the delay of the season,” Kanaan said Monday in an IndyCar Zoom news conference. “To be honest, I was mentally prepared already because my first real race was going to be the [Indy] 500. My mind was already set for May.

“I only really had to delay, what, a couple of weeks from what I was originally scheduled to do. For me, I think it wasn’t as hard as for the other guys that were already in St. Pete, ready to go.”

But while his mindset is locked in, Kanaan notes that he’s been out of a race car for eight months. In fact, as of Monday, he hadn’t sat in a car fitted with the new Aeroscreen cockpit protection system.

However, he is no stranger to the wild and woolly action at Texas. Ditto for his new-slash-old teammate, Kimball: The two competed together at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-17.

That experience is something A.J. Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt is grateful to have on his side.

“Going into this race, it’s huge,” Foyt said. “Especially with the one-day show, everything is accelerated, and going to a big track like Texas, having a guy like Charlie sit on the pole there [in 2017], knows his way around there, and obviously TK is very good there, as well.

“It’s a little bit of peace of mind for sure. Anything can happen, but the engineering group has been working really well together. We’re really hopeful we’re going to unload and get these guys some good cars out of the box. That’s the plan.”

Speaking of Kimball, the Californian is set to revive his full-time career in the sport after making just seven starts last season with Carlin.

He’s enjoyed his unexpected free time at home with his wife, Kathleen, and their two children, Hannah and newborn son Gordon, who arrived in March. But he’s grateful to get back in the car – and to accompany Tony on his ‘last lap.’

“We’re friends off the track,” Charlie said. “We train together. He’s gotten me addicted to riding a bicycle on a computer game, but also our wives are friends, and I think our families when we can get together and the kids can play, I think they’re going to interact really well. I’m excited for his daughter Nina to spend some time with our daughter.

“And the experience – I mean, he’s taught me things and I’ve learned a lot from him about how to restart on ovals and what you can and what you should and shouldn’t do and what he still does. That experience is invaluable to me to continue to learn and get better. I just feel really honored to be his teammate during his last lap, especially when we get back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500.”

The NTT IndyCar Series season begins Saturday night from Texas Motor Speedway with the Genesys 300 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. The race will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.