James Hinchcliffe takes Iowa Corn 300

By Jeremiah Davis

NEWTON – What happened to James Hinchcliffe and his Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports team at Indianapolis Motor Speedway hasn’t fully healed.

Missing the Indianapolis 500 isn’t something you just get over – especially when you have the history Hinchcliffe does with that speedway to begin with. Anyone who saw the team members in tears on Bump Day should be able to easy realize what that means. The getting-over-it process is one that’s ongoing, but he got one hell of a boost in the right direction on Sunday.

He wasn’t the dominant car – that was Penske driver Josef Newgarden – but he was the fastest car at the right time, his strategist made the right call at the end and he won the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway.

“I thought we were kind of running for second, to be honest,” Hinchcliffe said. “Josef obviously was dominant and we had stints where we weren’t particularly awesome, but we were able to hold onto it. When it mattered in that last stint, the guys nailed the setup changes and that’s what won us the race.

“Days like this and weekends like we’ve had … if we keep doing what we’ve been doing and not focus on it and when we get back to Indy next year not think about it, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

The process of putting something like missing the Indy 500 behind you as a team has to be done in multiple parts – with purpose and focus.

Hinchcliffe detailed the way his team has done that this year in his winner’s press conference after the race. The Canadian – who will have a week full of events, his life not belonging to himself headed into the Grand Prix of Toronto – described a group that has done what everyone recovering from heartbreak says they need to do: rallied around one another and stayed focused on the task at hand.

Anyone who’s been through something traumatic knows that’s far easier said than done. A win on Sunday shows that resiliency plainly.

“To not make it (in the Indy 500) can very easily get a group down,” Hinchcliffe said. “You can get despondent, you can kind of lose track of what the real goal is and lose motivation. But no one in this group suffered from that at all. It made us push harder.

“People are going to keep talking about it until we go back there. Even if the conversation dies for the next little while, as soon as May 1 comes back around it’s going to come back up.

Of course, bouncing back can’t happen unless the cars are fast. Hinchcliffe had that Sunday – though it wasn’t quite as fast as the dominant driver of the day for most of the race.

For 229 laps, Newgarden led the Iowa Corn 300. For 229 laps, it seemed like everyone was racing for second. At one point, Newgarden had everyone lapped up to third, and the closest driver to him was Hinchcliffe at more than seven seconds behind. At the end of the race only five cars remained on the lead lap.

It was a dominant effort – until it wasn’t. Newgarden’s race strategist, Tim Cindric, told NBCSN Hinchcliffe was the fastest car at the right time, and that held true. He led just 45 laps, but they were the right ones.

And no, Iowa Speedway fans didn’t get a high-quality finish, given the race ended under caution. Hinchcliffe defended that, saying he’s a big believer in races going the scheduled distance.

But the fans did get a surprise, and the sport got a guy in Victory Lane who knows what it means to appreciate being there. The uncertainty of whether or not the race would restart after the caution flew with seven laps to go led to mixed decisions. Newgarden pit for tires, figuring on a restart and the huge advantage.

Hinchcliffe didn’t, and kept the win.

“If we had pitted from the lead and not gone green, I wouldn’t have slept for a week,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s so nice to be back up top after the kind of season we’ve had and the May that we had.”

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