By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Several drivers in the Indianapolis 500 only run that race as a part of the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Many do it by choice, many do it by circumstance, some have done both.
J.R. Hildebrand is one that has done both.
The 2009 Indy Lights champion drove for Panther Racing in the 2011-2013 Indianapolis 500s, earning Rookie of the Year in 2011 and nearly winning. After the 2013 race, Hildebrand was unceremoniously fired from his ride and resorted to doing a couple of one-off drives for Bryan Herta Autosport in late 2013 and then the 500 for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2014-2016.
The Sausalito, California native was hired by ECR after the departure of full time driver Josef Newgarden to Team Penske. After being in a part time role for a few years, one would think that Hildebrand has a different mentality for Indianapolis this year, racing more for points than being too risky in going for the win.
“I think at this point it’s very similar. I don’t know about anybody else, like I’m not racing for points here for sure, we’re racing to stick it on the top step and if we don’t we’ll be disappointed so from that perspective, it being a one-off versus being full time here there’s like zero difference in my view of it,” Hildebrand said.
One can argue that Hildebrand isn’t racing for points since he missed the race at Barber Motorsports Park this year after injuring his hand at Long Beach.
“I do think that we look to take advantage of the fact that I have been full time, though,” Hildebrand said.
“You can trust a little bit more in like having a great last pit stop and doing some of those things when you’re racing full time, so that’s not to say that I’ll be taking any more risks necessarily or doing that in the race, but you know I think as a group I think you trust a little bit more in your ability to get things absolutely right when they count so that’s I think more just the difference in mentality for us as a team from last year to this year.”