James Hinchcliffe could be one to watch If you're looking for a potential favorite to win Sunday's Pocono IndyCar 400 fueled by Sunoco, you may want to bypass some of the bigger names and settle on relative newcomer James Hinchliffe.
After all, no one has won more races on the IndyCar circuit this season than the 26-year-old native of Oakville, Ontario, Canada, who is in just his third season on the circuit.
He began the season with a win at St. Petersburg, came back three races later for another victory in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and won on the last stop before Long Pond — the June 23 race in Iowa.
And yet, there was a sense of dissatisfaction in Hinchcliffe's voice on Tuesday as he previewed Sunday's first IndyCar race at Pocono since 1989.
That's because despite having three wins, he's only fourth in the Izod IndyCar Series point standings, running behind leader Helio Castroneves as well as Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti.
"It would have been tough for anyone to predict that we'd be a three-time winner at this point in the season and only fourth in points," he said. "We've had some races that really didn't go according to plan, so it really has been an up-and-down season. Hopefully, we've found our footing again and are on a good run of races."
Hinchcliffe, who replaced Danica Patrick in the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet at Andretti after she left to go full-time in NASCAR, followed up his season-opening win with back-to-back 26th-place efforts, completing just 37 of the scheduled 170 laps in the events at Birmingham and Long Beach.
He began ninth at the Indianapolis 500, but finished 21st.
However, Hinchcliffe, finished ninth at Texas and began in the No. 2 slot at both Milwaukee and Iowa and has jumped from ninth in points to fourth over the past three events.
Can he sustain the momentum in his first go-around at Pocono? He says it will be a demanding 400 miles.
"I was there for the test last week and now I understand why they call it the 'Tricky Triangle,' and have a full appreciation of what that place is like," Hinchcliffe said. "The track is so different from end-to-end and so difficult to set up an IndyCar there.
"But from the testing, I can tell we're going to have a great race. It's going to be very fast. All the teams and drivers are very anxious to get back there."
With a hometown race in Toronto coming up next schedule, you wonder if Hinchcliffe might be looking ahead.
Not at all, especially with his highly competitive Andretti Autosport teammates around to keep him focused.
In addition to defending series champs Hunter-Reay and Andretti, Venezuelan E.J. Viso is another teammate with a successful season underway. Viso has five top-10 finishes this season, started fourth at Indy and is 11th in the point standings.
Between the four of them, the Andretti team has registered five wins and 15 top-five finishes, so it would be understandable if the tension mounts just among them.
"There is competition among us as team members, but at the same time we realize that working together is what has put us in a position to be competing for the wins," Hinchcliffe said. "If we start battling internally, we know that we're going to be battling for fifth, seventh or 10th place instead of first. We don't want to lose focus on making our cars the best they can be. We have tremendous chemistry right now."
Hinchcliffe said it is imperative that the four drivers work in "absolute harmony" from Friday through Sunday morning and then come Sunday afternoon they will take four race cars to the track capable of winning.
"When you look at how unpredictable and competitive the season has been and then look at the numbers and see that Andretti Autosport drivers have won half of the races, it's absolutely incredible," Hinchcliffe said. "For us, Ryan winning the championship last year was huge. The motivation over the winter was for us to make sure it wasn't a flash-in-the-pan or a one-and-done. We didn't want to rest on our laurels."
And team owner Michael Andretti, the Nazareth native who has assembled the star-studded lineup, sets just the right tone according to Hinchcliffe.
"He's as competitive as a team owner as he was as a driver," Hinchcliffe said. "Winning is why he got into this business. To have a guy like him running the show puts us in the right frame of mind. He appreciates above anyone how easy it is to lose one of these races or get thrown off your game or into a rut.
"He's a great leader and cheerleader, in a sense, in getting us to the right place mentally as a unit. He puts us in position to win." Mcall.com