Hinchcliffe needs a strong IndyCar finish

James Hinchcliffe. (TODD KOROL/Reuters file photo)

James Hinchcliffe. (TODD KOROL/Reuters file photo)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:42 PM ET

James Hinchcliffe is still in the running for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship after a disappointing 26th place finish in the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday, but only by the slimmest of margins.

In fact, it would take a major miracle for the driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport GoDaddy.com Chevrolet to overtake the six drivers ahead of him with just two races left on the 2012 calendar.

Hinchcliffe was done in after his engine broke when he was hit from behind by Oriol Servia on lap 35 at the northern California road course.

But that was just the last straw on a weekend that saw the Oakville native struggle right from the first practice.

“We’ve been slow since day one — since the first session,” Hinchcliffe said after the race.

Once the race started, things went from bad to worse for the 25-year-old Canadian.

“On the start I got into Simon (Pagenaud),” Hinchcliffe said. “We kind of were just settling into it. We put a new wing on that first stop and then the car just went wicked lose.

“The low speed grip was just non-existent. So I had a train of cars behind me and Oriol (Servia) got in to the back of me. It wasn’t intentional — I was hanging on for dear life and I just literally had to slow the car down that much to make the corner.

“There’s nothing else that could have worked against us this weekend, but we’ll but it behind us and try to move on to Baltimore and come back stronger.”

The result pushed Hinchcliffe back to seventh place in the championship — 96 points behind leader Will Power — and the lowest he has been in points since the start of the season.

For all intents and purposes the Hinchcliffe’s battle for a title in just his second year in the IZOD IndyCar Series is over.

He can, however, jump into the top five with a good result at both Baltimore this week and at California Speedway in the season finale.

He is just a single point back of sixth place Tony Kanaan and only 11 back of fifth place Pagenaud.

FINISH LINES

Maybe Kyle Busch is thinking his plan to cut back his racing in all three major NASCAR series this season wasn’t such a great idea after all. For the first time in 2012, Busch will race his No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, drive the No. 54 KBR Toyota in the Nationwide Series and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the Cup series all at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. Busch has had a horrible season — by his standards — and he is just holding on in a bid for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. ... Martin Truex Jr. will sign a new contract on Friday to stay in the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota next season with NAPA as his primary sponsor. ... Kimi Raikkonen has told autosport.com that he will go back to the World Rally Championship when his Formula One days are over because the racing there was “more fun”. ... NASCAR will not penalize Tony Stewart for throwing his helmet at Matt Kenseth at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday. ... Look for a big shake-up at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing next season. The EGR pair of Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Chevrolet and Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 Chevrolet has not had a single top-five finish so far this season. One can imagine that primary sponsors Bass Pro Shops and Target are not amused. ... Alex Tagliani has apologized to Ryan Hunter-Reay after he punted him from contention at Sonoma on Sunday: “The only thing I can say is that there’s probably not going to be enough apologies to make Ryan feel better. I understand. I ran into him, and the guy that comes from behind and makes contact is at fault. I take full responsibility on the incident.”

KUBICA BACK IN RACE FOR WRC TEST

Formula One driver Robert Kubica is back behind the wheel of a race car for the first time since a crash in February of 2011 in a World Rally Championship car left him with serious leg, arm and hand injuries.

According to Autosport magazine, Kubica tested a factory Ford Fiesta RS WRC in France last month at the Circuit des Ecuyers.

The Polish driver is still a long way from returning to his job with F-1 Sauber but the WRC test was a big step for the 2009 winner of the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

MORE RACES FOR INDYCAR?

IZOD IndyCar boss Randy Bernard has floated a couple of trial balloons lately and one is catching some air.

He wants next year’s schedule to be at least 20 races and to do that he proposes doing several double-header weekends.

Two of those would be Toronto and Edmonton, where there would be practice and qualifying on Friday with a race on both Saturday and Sunday.

I am sure he wouldn’t have to convince promoters like Green Savoree and Octane Group that this is a good idea but doing the same for engine manufacturers and team might be harder.

Let’s face it this year’s 15-race schedule has been a public relations disaster — not all Bernard’s fault — after China dropped out and a suitable replacement couldn’t be found.

As well television numbers are hard to sustain — IndyCar’s numbers this season have been awful — when you are out of the public consciousness for about six months of the year.

That is one of the reasons IndyCar gets killed in the ratings war by NASCAR’s Nationwide and even the Truck series which run from February through November with 33 and 22 races respectively on their calendars.

I say bring on the double headers.

NO BACKING DOWN

So Tony Stewart has pledged to “run over” Matt Kenseth the next time the two NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers meet on the race track.

Well, that will be on Sunday next, at Atlanta Motor Speedway where the promoter has even set aside some discounted tickets at $14 (Stewart’s car number) and $17 (Kenseth’s car number) in hopes of capitalizing on the feud.

Much has been written about Stewart’s threat that was broadcast live after he claimed Kenseth slammed him into the wall at Bristol Motor Speedway last Saturday night.

Kenseth, however, didn’t get the same opportunity to give his side of the incident by the host broadcaster.

Here is what he has to say in his own defence:

“I’m a little confused. I was running the top leading and he got a run and he went into Turn 1 like I wasn’t there and just went straight to the fence.

“If he would have just stayed around the bottom for two laps and passed me clean, I would have just probably lifted and let him up in line, but, like I said, the first shot he had he just went straight like I wasn’t even there and went straight to the top groove, and it was either lift or wreck him and I lifted, so he just chose to do the opposite at the other end.”

As for Stewart’s threat to wreck him this week at Atlanta, Kenseth said: “OK, that’s fine. I’m just gonna race (Stewart) the same way he races me.”


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