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Hinchcliffe wins Iowa IndyCar race

The SportsXchange

NEWTON, Iowa -- Maybe there wasn't a lot of drama to James Hinchcliffe's third IndyCar Series win of the season Sunday at Iowa Speedway, but the series' smallest track provided an entertaining setting.

The series drove into the second half of the season with another competitive exhibition of speed. Yes, Hinchcliffe led 226 of the 250 laps in the Iowa Corn Indy 250, but those behind him spent the two-hour affair jostling for position.

Reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, with Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan third.

Hunter-Reay drove from 21st place, the last car on the lead lap, to second.

"That's probably the most impressive drive of the race," Hinchcliffe said.

Hunter-Reay's complaint was with Simona De Silvestro, who made it difficult for him to pass late in the race even though she was seven laps off the pace.

"I'd say it looked like we're nuts out there," he said of the frenzy. "I think I had clean laps two times. I felt like I was on vacation."

Kanaan was like a yo-yo going up and down through the field as he dealt with issues on his engine overheating. The crew had to removed debris from the sidepod's air intake.

Kanaan used a late pit stop for new tires to finish on the podium here for the fourth straight year.

"That really helped us," he said.

Kanaan chose to laugh about the lapped cars that bogged several lead-lap drivers down. It's part of racing on a short track, he said.

"At the end of the race, we're racing," he said. "Some people are hanging on (to their cars) for their lives, and they only have one lane that works for them. Sometimes that's your line, too.

"It's part of what makes this race here exciting."

With Hinchcliffe winning three of the season's first 10 races and Hunter-Reay two others, Michael Andretti's team has now won half of the races. No other driver has won more than one race this season.

"I hope they never take this race off the schedule," Andretti said. "It's such a great race with great fans."

Andretti's team has excelled the past three years on short tracks, winning five such events in succession. It also has won this event four consecutive years with four different drivers: Kanaan (2010), Marco Andretti (2011), Hunter-Reay (last year) and Hinchcliffe.

"The guys on the (crew) called it perfect," Hinchcliffe said of the car and the strategy. "I'd say that's right."

Helio Castroneves, who has one of those wins, retained the series points lead by nine over Hunter-Reay. Castroneves, the pole winner, finished eighth.

But Castroneves was the top-finishing Team Penske driver, and the once mighty team failed to win at this track for the seventh consecutive year. Three-time series runner-up Will Power finished three laps off the pace in 17th.

Ganassi Racing also struggled. Scott Dixon finished 16th, also three laps behind the winner. Dario Franchitti, who won here in 2007 and 2009, was four laps behind in 20th. Neither was a factor in the afternoon race.

Ed Carpenter had a slow final pit stop and probably should have finished higher than fourth. Graham Rahal, who is enduring his most challenging season, was fifth.

The rest of the top 10 included Simon Pagenaud, Oriol Servia, Castroneves, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso.

The race's only incident involved Alex Tagliani, who spun off the second turn after his car scrubbed the wall at that end of the track.

As the series takes its first week off from track activity in nine weeks, Andretti is third in the standings, 55 points behind Castroneves. Hinchcliffe pulled to within 66 in fourth.

Michael Andretti thinks any one of his three drivers can win the series championship, although he acknowledged, "Helio is going to be tough to beat with his experience."

Hunter-Reay is last year's champion. Marco Andretti and Hinchcliffe are in the title fight for the first time in their careers.

Michael Andretti said Hinchcliffe just keeps getting better and better as he gains confidence.

"It's really all coming together for him," the boss said. "We always knew he had potential, and it's like we often see that once a driver gets that first (win) the next ones seem to come."

Andretti pointed out that Hinchcliffe "has had a weird year" with three wins and five finishes 15th or worse, including a pair of 26th-place finishes in April at Barber Motorsports Park and the street circuit in Long Beach, Calif.

"It's either feast or famine," Andretti said.

Power's situation is strange, too. He's now 10th in the standings, 123 points out of the lead, just a few months after he finished second for the third consecutive year. He could have won any of those titles.

He started on the pole for the Iowa race after Castroneves' crew accepted an engine change. Such changes before the engines have been maxxed out come with a 10-position penalty on the starting grid.

Perhaps the most amazing statistic is that in the 14 months since Power last won, a span of 20 races, 12 other IndyCar drivers have won races.

There are nine races in the second half of the season, starting with the next race, July 7 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. IndyCar hasn't raced at the eastern Pennsylvania track since 1989. Power hopes to back in the mix there.
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