FORT WORTH, Texas - It was truly so close yet so far for James Hinchcliffe in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The 29-year-old Canadian finished second to Graham Rahal by a mere 0.008 of a second after leading a race-high 188 laps. The margin of victory was the closest in track history and the fifth closest for any Indy car race.
“It was a tough finish, for sure,” said Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. “It was a great race. The Arrow Electronics car was just a rocket ship.”
Hinchcliffe led the Verizon IndyCar Series race after 71 laps in June when it was halted by rain, with the completion rescheduled for Saturday night. Ryan Hunter-Reay swept past Hinchcliffe for the lead on the restart, but the Canadian wrestled it back on lap 85.
With the best mix of consistency and speed over a full stint, Hinchcliffe led all but 10 of the final 164 laps around the 1.455-mile oval.
“We picked up right where we left off in June,” he said. “We got the lead the first half of this race back in June by really building a car to take care of tires because that's been always the name of the game here in Texas.”
A series of three caution periods in the final 35 laps set up an eight-lap, Texas-style shootout to the finish among Hinchcliffe, Rahal, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud. Kanaan and Pagenaud used the final yellow to pit for fresh Firestone tires and challenge for the lead.
The quartet raced for the lead lap after lap – including one instance on Lap 244 when they ran four wide on the backstretch before Pagenaud backed off entering Turn 3 – but Hinchcliffe remained the leader each time they crossed the start/finish line until the final lap.
Rahal pushed Hinchcliffe ahead of Kanaan through Turns 1 and 2, then dove his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to the inside of Hinchcliffe as they entered Turns 3 and 4. Rahal exited the final corner in front but knew Hinchcliffe would get a run on the outside line.
As they approached the checkered flag, Hinchcliffe used a side draft to inch alongside but wound up just short at the line.
“I gave him the bottom into (Turn) 3,” said Hinchcliffe, who credited Rahal, Kanaan and Pagenaud for their fair racing in the hectic closing laps. “I had to make a decision because I thought he could get the run off of (Turn) 2. That whole last run – the last five, six laps – I was side-by-side with Tony and I was timing the line (to be ahead at start/finish).”
Hinchcliffe searched his Verizon IndyCar Series memory bank in those frantic moments, recalling how Sam Hornish Jr. would employ the outside line to win three of the seven previous closest finishes in TMS history. Hornish’s margin of victory over Helio Castroneves in the Fall 2002 race (0.0096 of a second) was the narrowest at the track until Saturday.
“I've seen so many races won here on the high line, coming to the line, because you just have that momentum off of (Turn) 4,” Hinchcliffe said. “I was thinking back to my classic days (watching the races) and Sam Hornish Jr.'s tricks and all the rest of it, but, man, Graham just pulled through (Turns) 3 and 4 like no one had all night.
“We made a run again on him at the end there and it got pretty close, but congrats to him. It's just tough having a car like that and leading that many laps, but not the one that counted.”
Hinchcliffe and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series head to the penultimate round of the championship and make their return to Watkins Glen International for the first time in six years at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen this weekend.
NBCSN will telecast opening practice live at 11 a.m. ET Friday. The Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying session will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com at 3 p.m. ET Saturday, with a same-day NBCSN telecast airing at 6 p.m.
Coverage of the 60-lap race on the historic 3.4-mile permanent road course begins at 2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.