Heartbreak for Hinchcliffe in thrilling Texas conclusion

Graham Rahal , right, pumps his fist as he leads James Hinchcliffe (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

We had to wait seven weeks for the IndyCar race that began in June at Texas Motor Speedway to conclude, but it was a heart-pounding, breathtaking conclusion we witnessed on the high-speed oval Saturday night.

Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe recorded his best result of the season in one of the most anguishing results of his career when he crossed the finish line 0.008 of a second behind the winner Graham Rahal.

The concluding laps of the race were some of the most exciting we’ve seen all year. The frantic dash set up by a number of late cautions and some drivers choosing to gamble and make pit stops for fresh tires. The run to the checkers pitted Hinchcliffe who chose to stay out and hold onto his track position versus Rahal, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud running four wide at times and gunning for the victory.

Hinchcliffe on the older tires did all he could to fend off the multiple competitors that were attacking him. In the end Rahal came away the victor, his first win of 2016 and his first since winning at Mid-Ohio last summer in one of the closest finishes in IndyCar history.

The day after the race Hinchcliffe was still feeling “gutted,” but proud of what his team accomplished. And he should be. The Schmidt Peterson team has now finished top ten in five consecutive races with a podium result in Toronto to go along with last night’s run in Texas. This is the kind of consistency and success both the driver and the team were expecting to see when they came together last year. They’re getting stronger and the next victory isn’t far away.

When the final few laps got particularly wild the overall championship points leader Simon Pagenaud did the right thing and let the others have at it. He is thinking championship and with his Penske teammate and closest competitor Will Power in the title chase behind him in the running he made the right call to ease up and ensure points are banked.

I wondered if Pagenaud was maybe being a little too conservative in his approach to races in the preview piece for this event. But he played this one perfectly. Pagenaud tried to steal the win in the final few laps, but when it didn’t happen he stayed close enough to the front to capitalize on a mistake by one of the others, but didn’t put himself in peril.

Pagenaud crossed the line fourth, Power was eighth and the lead is now 28 points for Pagenaud with two races remaining. Is it still possible for Power to complete his comeback and win after missing the opening round at St. Pete? Yes, but his task is even more difficult now.

Both Power and Pagenaud are excellent road-course racers and up to the challenge of Watkins Glen and Sonoma, the two remaining tracks. Both also have the same top-notch equipment. To overtake his teammate Power may have to be extra aggressive to gain every point possible in the standings. That kind of aggressive driving means high risk, but also potentially high reward, and can provide us with the kind of excitement we saw Saturday night from Texas.

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