LOS ANGELES -- James Hinchcliffe continued his run for the mirror ball trophy on "Dancing with the Stars" Monday night after surviving a bump in the road – an injury scare for his professional partner, Sharna Burgess.
It failed to slow the front-running couple, however, as they tied for the highest individual couple dance score of the night and Hinchcliffe, the Verizon IndyCar Series driver, captained the team that scored best in a group dance.
Burgess fell and suffered a knee injury in rehearsal before the show. But she and Hinchcliffe still delivered two sparkling performances on "Eras Night," which paid tribute to the decades of the 1920s through '90s.
Hinchcliffe and Burgess, dancing a 1940s jitterbug to the famed song "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller and his orchestra, thrilled the audience and the judges. They received a score of 36 out of 40 for the dance, tying for first with former football player Calvin Johnson Jr. and partner Lindsay Arnold in the individual portion of the night. It marked the third time in seven weeks of competition that Hinchcliffe and Burgess have been awarded the top score by the judges.
Hinchcliffe, along with Johnson, Ryan Lochte and Maureen McCormick, made up Team Past for the group dance with their pro partners. They performed a Viennese waltz that earned 38 of a possible 40 points, including a perfect 10 from judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli. Team Future, consisting of Laurie Hernandez, Marilu Henner, Jana Kramer, Terra Jole and their partners, scored a 35.
Combining the individual and team scores, Hinchcliffe and Johnson totaled 74 of a possible 80 points to lead the way for the night. Hernandez, Kramer and Jole were next closest at 69. At the conclusion of Monday’s show, McCormick, star of “The Brady Bunch” sitcom of the ‘70s, was eliminated from competition based on her combined judges’ score and fan vote from last week.
But the immediate concern backstage after Monday’s show was how Burgess was doing.
"I have to go for an MRI (today), but as of right now I've sprained my MCL (medial collateral ligament), so it's overstretched,” the Australian said. “It just keeps snapping against the bone against my kneecap. I have to just manage the pain. James is an amazing partner getting me through that and taking care of me and leading me so perfectly."
Burgess said she has already undergone anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery on the knee and feared the worst when the injury occurred in rehearsal.
“I was scared to death,” she said. “‘Oh my God, I've busted my knee and I'm out of this competition.’ Within the hour, working with (the show’s physical therapists), I realized there's no tear, there's no swelling. … We're going to power through."
Hinchcliffe said he was impressed with his partner’s determination to carry on.
"She's such a trouper, got us through two routines,” the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver said. “With (the) combined total, we got all nines and 10s, so it just shows what a champion this girl really is. Dancing injured, it's not easy."
Hinchcliffe exclusively told IndyCar.com about their 1940s military-themed routine. "It was cool. It's actually a song I'd heard before this competition, which is the first time this year I danced a song I knew beforehand. So that helps. And the concept Sharna came up with was really cool. It was a lot of fun to do the jitterbug."
The 29-year-old Canadian said the fast pace of the dance "was definitely the part that made me the most nervous. When you're working with a song that's that quick, you have to fill the time with that much more footwork, that much more stuff to remember. And on top of that we had tricks and flips and all sorts of stuff, so there were a few new elements this week and it was a lot, but we pulled it off."
Each of the four judges scored the routine a nine out of 10. Tonioli praised it as looking like a classic movie with Hinchcliffe as the actor. Hinchcliffe told Indycar.com that was good to hear.
"It makes me feel good because that's an element I've been working on,” Hinchcliffe said. “Sharna has really driven the point home that so much of this is about performance. The dance obviously is the most important part, but you could dance the best dance of your life but if you're not in the character and you're not performing it, it's only half the battle. So I really worked hard on bringing the performance element into (it). Hearing things like that is just validation for the hard work."
Alexander Rossi, winner of the 2016 Indianapolis 500 for Andretti-Herta Autosport, was in the audience Monday night to lend his support to Hinchcliffe. Fellow Verizon IndyCar Series driver and former "Dancing with the Stars" champion Helio Castroneves was shown in the pre-dance video package joking with Hinchcliffe on the phone in a rehearsal moment.
"It was an unexpected call and he gave us a buzz during rehearsal,” Hinchcliffe said of the Team Penske driver. “It's always nice hearing from him. He was such a big part of me wanting to join the show in the first place and he has given me a lot of tips and advice in the first couple weeks. I think he's been our biggest campaigner throughout this whole thing — whether it's in interviews or at the INDYCAR banquet. He's always telling people to vote and so his support means a lot to me."
Hinchcliffe was just as proud of the team dance, which his group performed in a 1700s style.
"We took a big risk doing a lot more choreography than is normally seen in the group number and the judges even alluded to that,” he said. “But it's a group dance; we wanted to not do four individual dances but some group stuff. The pros deserve so much credit. Sharna, Lindsay, Cheryl (Burke) and Artem (Chigvintsev) worked so well together.
“We saw no bickering, no arguing, no clashes, no conflicts. They had an idea and they just snowballed with each other and built this beautiful routine. Wardrobe made us look the part and everybody executed what they needed to.
After being at the top for yet another week, Hinchcliffe marveled, "I can't believe it. It's so nice to be up there."
Sitting atop the judges’ leaderboard doesn’t guarantee Hinchcliffe safety from elimination, however, as those scores are combined with this week’s fan vote to determine who will leave the show next week. Online voting remains open until 8 p.m. ET today at abc.com and the “Dancing with the Stars” Facebook page.
Watch Hinchcliffe and Burgess' jitterbug and Team Past's Viennese waltz below.