Texas Motor Speedway

Runner-up James Hinchcliffe eyeing Victory Lane visit in Texas this year

IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe fell just short of being a winner in two notable events last fall.

In August, he lost the closest open-wheel race in Texas Motor Speedway history, losing to Graham Rahal by 0.0080 of a second. Then, in November, he had another runner-up showing in “Dancing with the Stars.”

Hinchcliffe made it to the finals of the hit reality show with partner Sharna Burgess, but lost the championship to Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and her partner, Valentin Chmerkovskiy.

But Hinchcliffe hasn’t lost sleep over either of those losses. He doesn’t think he could have done anything differently to win the TMS race, and he broadened his fan base by appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” a decade after fellow IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves won it.

“[Growing my fan base] was a huge motivation for doing the show in the first place,” said Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Honda. “They have a tremendously strong following. A lot of those fans probably never watched an IndyCar race, but they might now. It worked out well.”

Hinchcliffe is now focused on sustaining his newfound fame by performing well in IndyCar. He feels good about his chances returning to Texas for Saturday’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600.

Hinchcliffe, 30, won the second race of the season at Long Beach, snapping what had become a 20-race winless drought. He had an impressive third-place run on Saturday in Detroit, but engine issues wrecked his day with five laps to go on Sunday.

Things might get back on track in Texas. Hinchcliffe had the second-place run a year ago and a fourth-place run in 2012.

“We’re excited to come back. Texas testing [in early April] went very well,” he said. “We’re certainly a team that’s going to try and take the win we couldn’t capture last year.”

Hinchcliffe said he doesn’t feel the track owes him one after last year’s close call. He led a race-high 188 laps before being narrowly edged out on the final lap by Rahal.

“The tracks don’t owe you anything. You’ve got to earn it,” Hinchcliffe said. “There have been times in my racing career where I wake up in cold sweats thinking about races I should’ve won, but not that one. There’s nothing I could have done different.

“It took me using every trick I ever learned to be in that position and I did everything I could to win it. If it was one lap longer or one lap shorter, I would’ve won. It just wasn’t in the cards, coming up 0.008 of a second short. It was a great effort.”

The racing couldn’t have been better on that August night, 76 days after the race had initially started. TMS and IndyCar suspended it after running 71 laps in June because of inclement weather.

That weekend is part of the reason TMS had its racing surface re-paved and re-configured before this season to handle weather situations better.

Hinchcliffe is on board with the new surface, although part of him wishes the old surface would have remained. After all, he had such a strong run on it a year ago.

“Selfishly, I would’ve liked the track to stay the same and it would’ve been nice to come back with that advantage,” Hinchcliffe said. “But the fact that we had to come back and run the race two months later? They had to repave. We’re looking forward to getting back out there.”

Added TMS president Eddie Gossage: “I’ve never seen anything like that weekend in June, it was really weird. But it turned out to be a spectacular race and I think that was the saving grace.”

No doubt. As far as Hinchcliffe, he’s looking to be fractionally on the other side of it this time around.

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

Rainguard Water Sealers 600

7:30 p.m. Saturday, NBCSN

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