By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
NASHVILLE – It might’ve been a caution and red fest for the Inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, but James Hinchcliffe didn’t mind them. That’s because he was back on the step of the podium for the first time since Iowa in 2019, finishing third Sunday.
Thanks to the first red flag on Lap 19 where he was caught up in the traffic jam in Turn 10, Hinchcliffe wasn’t out of the mix.
“As much as we hate that happening, I thought they were going to drive the field through pit lane,” Hinchcliffe on the red flag. “Until we cleared up the traffic jam, we were going to be three, four laps down and kind of out of it.
“Credit to INDYCAR for not eliminating all eight of us, whatever it was, that were stuck back there. We had no damage. We avoided all the carnage. The traffic just blocked,” Hinchcliffe continued. “I think they made a good call on that one. It’s just unfortunate that we created so many situations where we had to have the safety guys out there today.”
As the race and sun went down, Hinchcliffe methodically worked his way towards the front. All thanks to race strategist Brian Barnhart, luck bestowed “The Mayor of Hinchtown” and was in good position of having a strong result.
Then came teammate Colton Herta’s late-race heartbreak with six laps remaining which halted the race once again. This put Hinchcliffe up to third where he stayed there, leading the Andretti Autosport camp.
The man who entered Nashville 19th in points reflected on his 18th career podium, saying this momentum will boost the entire No. 29 squad going forward.
“The pace of the entire Andretti squad was quick. It sucks that Colton and Alex (Rossi) had their problems, but Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and I both coming home with a top-five is a great result for the team. It’s been a rough season for us,” Hinchcliffe explained.
“We’ve had our own troubles and bad luck. It looked like it was going that away again when we got stuck in the traffic jam. Brian made a great call and got us in the pits to kind of cycle through when it all shook out. We had a great car. The Capstone car was great and the Andretti Steinbrenner guys in the pits were awesome. It was eventful. We kind of ran little bit everywhere today.”
With now four red flags this season compared to zero the year before, Hinchcliffe has gotten used to stoppages. In this case, it saved him from having another rough outing.
However, from a mental standpoint, the mindset hasn’t changed when the competition are still strapped in the car. Unlike in Formula One, where the drivers can get out during a stoppage.
“For better or worse, it’s become more common place for us the last few seasons. We’ve kind of had more practice than certainly in the first half of my career,” said Hinchcliffe. “You’re strapped in the car the whole time, you try not to get out of it. You don’t think about having to get back into the mindset. As long as you’re in the race car, you’re still in the race. So you never get out of it.”
Compared to other races, Nashville was hot and humid throughout the race. But with some cloud cover and cooler temperatures late in the day, it helped Hinchcliffe.
“For how hot it was today, it would’ve been interesting if we have ran more green flag runs. It would’ve felt worse at the end of it. But we had some cloud cover which was nice and a couple long breaks which helped take care of us,” Hinchcliffe commented.
“Mentally, I think we’re all used to it now because it does happen from time-to-time. Obviously, it’s done trying to give the fans the best race we can give them.”
With five rounds remaining, Hinchcliffe gained two spots in the championship standings. He’ll enter the Brickyard weekend 17th in points. Far out of the championship trail, but a podium in the “Music City” certainly gave him every reason to relish the moment.