HOMESTEAD, Fla. – James Hinchcliffe will return to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2016, but the self-proclaimed Mayor of Hinchtown is eyeing NASCAR as well.
Hinchcliffe, 28, was in attendance at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend for Jeff Gordon’s final NASCAR race. But the four-time IndyCar Series winner was also in the ear of any car owner he came across, looking to put a deal together for him to get behind the wheel of a stock car in the very near future. An XFINITY Series car to be exact, as Hinchcliffe would love to run at Watkins Glen.
“Great track, obviously, and super close to Canada,” Hinchcliffe explained to POPULAR SPEED. “So there’s some opportunity to get some more Canadian fans down, maybe bring in some Canadian sponsors. So for me that makes the most sense to start there but we race at Road America, and we race at Mid-Ohio so there’s no reason why those two also wouldn’t make sense. I’m happy to do all three if there’s the opportunity.”
So enamored with the idea, Hinchcliffe isn’t ashamed to have others help spread the word. That includes on social media where a #GetHinchToTheGlen campaign has broken out. It all helps fuel his desire, which he found flare back up this summer.
In May, Hinchcliffe nearly died at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he crashed during practice for the Indianapolis 500, a piece of suspension piercing his leg. The injury took him out of competition for the remainder of the season, which ended up allowing him the time to attend NASCAR’s Brickyard 400. The IndyCar schedule occasionally conflicts with the NASCAR weekend, or Hinchcliffe, who has lived in Indianapolis for seven years, decides not to spend his free time at a racetrack.
This year, he made the trek for the very first time and was given a new appreciation for the sport.
“It’s always been something that I was curious about because I watched a lot of really good open wheel guys come over and it gave me an appreciation for how tough it must be over here,” Hinchcliffe said. “Because I’ve raced against these guys enough I know how talented they are, and they struggle when they first come (to NASCAR). As a competitor, that challenge interests me and it intrigues me.”
Sam Hornish Jr. is the most recent defect from the open wheel world. Hornish competed full-time in the Sprint Cup Series this year for Richard Petty Motorsports and finished 26th in points. Unfortunately, Hornish appears without a ride for next season.
There was also the seven years Juan Pablo Montoya put it at the highest level before going back to IndyCar. Dario Franchitti tried his hand in 2007-2008, but his NASCAR career ended after a broken leg in an XFINITY race at Talladega. Jacques Villeneuve has also come and gone. Danica Patrick’s full-time NASCAR career began in 2012, and she has since moved into the Sprint Cup Series but has yet to find her footing.
The list goes on of IndyCar drivers taking a shot in NASCAR. A.J. Foyt and Tony Stewart were successful in their attempts, but the list of accomplished open wheel drivers who couldn’t figure out stock cars is longer. Even still, Hinchcliffe admits just getting the opportunity to try is appealing to many drivers.
“I think a lot of us grew up idolizing the guys like Mario (Andretti) and A.J. (Foyt), who raced everything and won in everything and that doesn’t really exist in the same respect anymore,” Hinchcliffe said. “But I think guys really like that idea. We’re all racers – if it’s got four wheels and an engine we’ll probably try and go fast in it.
“I do sports car racing as well. I want to do it all. (NASCAR) is obviously one of the top levels of motorsports on earth and so to try and get in on that and try to experience that is par for the course in a driver’s mind. It’s wanting to try your hand in everything.”
Seeing all those who have come before and failed doesn’t deter Hinchcliffe in the slightest. In fact, it helped him make a game plan of how he wants to approach it. Hinchcliffe admitted he was going to “cheat a little bit” by starting on a road course, which open wheel drivers have faired well at.
“It makes me want to do it more, it really does. That’s probably crazy,” he said of seeing the struggle. “It’s not to try and prove that I’m better than those guys or anything like that; I like a challenge. I’m curious as to know what is so different that makes it such a challenge.”
In 2013, NASCAR was close to seeing Hinchcliffe in the field, as he put a deal together that ended just short of making it on track.
“It was done. It was done. I had a car, team, sponsor,” Hinchcliffe emphatically said. “It was the first time in the history of racing that a sponsor wanted to pay money to do something, and somebody was like, no. My employer at the time didn’t think it was a good idea, which is really unfortunate because it was a great idea.
“It was done. The deal was done, and the sponsor was flabbergasted and quite put off that it all got shut down because that’s the hardest part, is finding the money, and we had that. So that was disappointing but also motivated me to try harder to make it work.”
The three-day weekend in Homestead provided Hinchcliffe another chance to plant the seed. And he spent plenty of time doing so, even getting a chance to promote the cause during NBCSN’s television coverage. Good practice for the next time he’s in a NASCAR garage and hopefully talking about his racecar.
“I’ve got down time, the timing is perfect, and it wouldn’t interfere with anything,” Hinchcliffe said. “That’s the goal. The goal is to get to the Glen. We do that we can build from there.”
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