Auto Racing

James Hinchcliffe earns redemptive victory in Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway

After failing to qualify for Indianapolis 500 in May, Hinchcliffe posts first win of the season and second career triumph at Iowa

NEWTON — James Hinchcliffe described the May 19 scene as “grown men in tears, a lot of them and a lot of tears.”

This vivid depiction was a snapshot from “Bump Day” at the famed Indianapolis 500, where Hinchcliffe fell short of earning a spot among the field of 33 IndyCar Series drivers after two days of qualifying races.

Fifty days later, Hinchcliffe appears to have reclaimed his status as one of the most exciting drivers in IndyCar.

“Proud of this group,” Hinchcliffe said after winning the Iowa Corn 300 on Sunday at Iowa Speedway. “Something like what happened to this team in May can really get you down. Obviously, that’s our Super Bowl, that’s our Wimbledon, that’s our Masters all wrapped into one. To miss it is a huge blow for every single member of the team. … It fueled us to want to perform better and push harder and work harder.”

The victory is the first this season for Hinchcliffe, 31, and the sixth of his eight-year IndyCar Series career. Driving the No. 5 car for Schmidt Pearson Motorsports, the Canada native last won at the 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Iowa Speedway has been a noteworthy track for Hinchcliffe. His first IndyCar Series race was on the 7/8-mile oval in 2011, then recorded the third of his three victories during the 2013 season at Newton.

“I’ve just loved this place,” said Hinchcliffe, a fan favorite who was the runner-up in a 2016 edition of the reality-television series, "Dancing with the Stars." "It is a short track that races like a super speedway. It’s always exciting. There is always something going on on the track.”

There was plenty going on over the final 50 laps of the race. American Josef Newgarden appeared to be on the verge of lapping the field during a lead that covered 229 laps. During a crucial sequence on lap 255, Newgarden got caught behind a cluster of lapped traffic and Hinchcliffe pounced with some decisive inside moves following an effective third pit stop.

“Josef was obviously dominant for a long part of the day,” said Hinchcliffe, who will race at the Streets of Toronto on July 15 in his native Canadian province of Ontario. “While we had stints where I don’t think we were particularly awesome, we were able to just kind of hold on to it. When it mattered in that last stint, the guys nailed a set of changes and that is really what won us the race today.”

With an average speed of 149.636 miles per hour, Hinchcliffe established a record in the 12-year history of the Iowa Corn 300.

The race ended under a yellow caution flag when Japanese driver Takuma Sato gingerly collided with American Ed Carpenter with four laps to go, which resulted in some strewn debris in the middle of the track.

“We clipped it a little bit and made very gentle contact,” said Sato, who finished third and earned his first podium finish since winning the 2017 Indianapolis 500. “I had a little bit of body damage, but the car was absolutely fine.”

In anticipation of a potential green flag that would create a furious winner-take-all final lap, Newgarden elected for one final pit stop while Hinchcliffe, Sato and runner-up Spencer Pigot did not. When the green flag never arrived, Newgarden was cemented in fourth place.

“Talking with the guys, seeing if they wanted me to pit or not and they said, ‘Stay out,’” said Pigot, who earned his best career finish in three years in the IndyCar Series. “Obviously, it was the right decision. Had it gone green again, it would have been really tricky to hang on.”

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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