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Hinchcliffe makes dent in wake of Danica Patrick's exodus
Replacing Danica, Hinchcliffe has raised the level of the whole Andretti team
James Hinchcliffe was looking for a ride after last season when Newman-Haas officials announced they would be leaving the IndyCar series after 30 years.

It didn't take Hinchcliffe long to find a job.

Michael Andretti called in December and asked if he was interested in replacing Danica Patrick in the No. 27GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.

"Yes!" Hinchcliffe said.

He's backed up the deal with five top-10 finishes in five races, including a third at Long Beach and fourth at St. Petersburg.

"You have to have some fun with it," Hinchcliffe said after wearing a wig in pre-race introductions at St. Petersburg, giving his best impersonation of Patrick, now competing full-time in NASCAR.

"Obviously, she was sort of the most iconic driver that we had, the most visible, the most popular so that's a tough act to follow ... as some no-name kid who has been in the sport for one year, that's big heels to fill which is sort of the joke."

Hinchcliffe, who finished 12th his rookie year, is third in points in his sophomore season.

"I was very fortunate, very lucky in 2011 to be with Newman-Haas, a very successful, storied race team, but even last year it was smaller than it used to be and wasn't as well-funded as the big teams and ultimately the team had to close its doors," said Hinchcliffe, 25, who is from Oakville, Ontario. "Landing at a place like Andretti that has the resources it does, the people power it does, the championships … the race wins, everything they've done, it's huge.

"It certainly has been a transition, but it's been a lot of fun."

Hinchcliffe knows how fun it is to run up front and challenge Will Power and his Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe as well as Target Ganassi drivers Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.

It helps, though, to have the Andretti name behind him and teammates like Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, Michael's son.

"There's great chemistry on the team and I've always said that racing is not about cars or engines or tires, it's about people," said Hinchcliffe, who is faring better than Hunter-Reay (fifth in points) and Marco Andretti (19th) this season."

When asked if he felt he could contend for the series title, Hinchcliffe replied: "That's a big ask. I don't think that's our goal. Our goal is to look at every race weekend and maximize our performance. I had my first podium, now I still want to get my first pole, my first win."

And that one race Hinchcliffe is focused on is the Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix.

So, what does he have to do to be running up front?

"This is a tough place to get around, easy to make mistakes, tough to pass so obviously qualifying is going to be very important and beating Will in qualifying this year has been a very tough task for everybody," he said. "It's just about having a solid qualifying car, then being very consistent and making no mistakes in the race." Detroit News

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