NASHVILLE, Tenn — James Hinchcliffe needed this. His 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season hasn’t gone the way that he dreamed it would when he returned to a full time seat with Andretti Autosport for this season. After being wrongfully let go by Arrow McLaren SP following the 2019 season, he went back to a part time role with Andretti for 2020. He did well in those select starts and even got the nod for the No. 26 Honda when Zach Veach decided to step away from the seat towards the end of the year.
Hinchcliffe, kept the car on the good side on the entrant points and with an uptick in support from his sponsor in Genesys this offseason, a full season return was his.
In the first 10 races though, his best result was 14th. The luck just wasn’t there. Finally, it was. On a day that saw two of his teammates have misfortunes, he capitalized and scored his 18th career podium in bring home his No. 29 Honda in third.
“The pace of the entire Andretti squad was quick. It sucks that Colton and Alex had their problems. Ryan and I both coming home in the top five is a great result for the team,” he said after scoring his 33rd career top five too and first podium since 2019 at Iowa.
“For us in the 29 car, it’s been a rough season. We’ve had our own troubles, but we’ve also had a lot of bad luck. It looked like it was going that way again today when we got stuck in the traffic jam in turn 11. Brian Barnhart made a great call, got us in the pits there to kind of cycle through when it all shook out.
“We had a great car. The Capstone car was great. The Andretti Steinbrenner guys in the pits were awesome in that second stop, got us ahead of Ryan because he was ahead of us on track at that point.”
He’s right too. When Will Power got into his Team Penske teammate of Will Power on Lap 19, it caused a massive traffic jam among 11 cars. Hinchcliffe was one of them. INDYCAR wisely elected to display the red flag in order to get all those cars refired.
When he pulled down pit road, he knew that he lucked out for a change. See, if INDYCAR didn’t red flag it, Hinchcliffe’s race was over. He would have fell multiple laps down and ruined any shot of a good result.
“I mean, honestly what saved us is going red,” he said. “As much as we hate that happening, I thought they were going to drive the field through pit lane, 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.
“Credit to them. 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.”
See, the only reason Hinchcliffe was back there to get stopped in that was because he was one of a handful of cars to go off strategy and pit on Lap 17 during the third caution of the day. He was behind the carnage which is why he escaped any damage.
They played it conservative in pitting for the final time on Lap 45 and he took on scuffed reds. It wouldn’t allow him to hold off faster cars like Scott Dixon or Colton Herta, but when Herta crashed in the end, it opened the door up for Hinchcliffe to get a podium.
He’d hold off his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay on a three lap shootout for some new hardware in the inaugural event.
“As the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last race. We’ve been finding some pace in qualifying the last couple events. In Mid-Ohio we got caught up in the turn one deal. Sort of kills your day. It was nice to have nothing, well I am not going to say nothing because something went wrong, but then something went right.
“It’s nice that our luck balanced out today. The car did have great pace. We were having to save a bit more fuel at the end. I wasn’t able to challenge Scott so much. He did a great job on 50-lap tires. Credit to Firestone and him on that.
“But, yeah, hopefully we’re just slowly chipping away at it and we can have momentum for the last couple.”