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James Hinchcliffe Uses Pit Strategy to Claim Comeback Win

James Hinchcliffe took the lead when Scott Dixon pitted under green on lap 54. Shortly afterwards, a full course yellow came out for Alexander Rossi’s blown engine.  From there, Hinchcliffe held on through a late restart to take his first win since his near-fatal injuries at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2015.

Hinchcliffe seemed relieved to be back on top after everything that he’s gone through in the past two years.

“Thank you.  A lot’s happened since I was last here,” Hinchcliffe said in the post-race press conference.  “It’s just so nice to be back.  We came so close last year.  A lot of people talked about 2016 as [my] comeback year, but we really wanted to put an exclamation point on that by getting back to Victory Lane.  To finally do it here at [Long Beach], a track that I love so much…is huge.”

Dixon had the fastest car on-track.  He took advantage of Castroneves’ balky start and moved into the lead.  After the restart from the Power-Kimball crash, Dixon pulled away from the field until he made the first of his three pit stops on lap 16.

Dixon’s stop put Ryan Hunter-Reay in the lead.  Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe and others chose a two-stop strategy and stayed out much later.  Hunter-Reay managed to make it to lap 29 before stopping and giving the lead back to Dixon.

The pit strategy for the No. 9 team saw Dixon make his second stop on lap 40.  The goal was to run 100 percent for the whole race and make up the extra time.

On the final round of pit stops, Hunter-Reay pitted out of the lead on lap 56.  Hinchcliffe pitted a lap later, and managed to jump over Hunter-Reay in the pits.  Dixon made his final stop seven laps later and came out in fifth with no fuel worries.  Shortly afterwards, Alexander Rossi blew an engine and came to a stop on Shoreline Drive, bringing out a full course yellow.

The yellow more or less equalized everyone’s pit strategies.  On the restart, Hinchcliffe ran out to a three second lead, but Hunter-Reay was able to reel Hinchcliffe back in a couple of tenths at a time.

However, mechanical issues hit Andretti Autosport once again.  First, Takuma Sato pulled off on lap 79 at the end of Shoreline Drive.  A lap later, Hunter-Reay slowed to a halt at the entrance to turn 4.  Hunter-Reay’s day was over and the full course yellow was out again.  Once the green came back out with three laps to go, Hinchcliffe pulled away from Sebastien Bourdais to claim the win.

Behind Hinchcliffe and Bourdais was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in third, followed by Dixon.  Simon Pagenaud was fifth.

While Newgarden finished third and Pagenaud fifth from the rear, Sunday was not the greatest day for Team Penske.  Helio Castroneves won the pole on Saturday, but got a terrible start.  He would drop to sixth immediately and was ultimately never a factor.  Back-to-back pit road speeding penalties dropped Castroneves to 15th.  He would eventually recover to finish ninth.  Will Power was pitched into the wall in turn 4 on the first lap by Charlie Kimball.  While Kimball was out on the spot, Power would resume, but was never a factor.  He would finish a lap down in 13th.

Bourdais’ second-place finish allows him to hold onto the points lead by 19 over Hinchcliffe.  Pagenaud is third, followed by Dixon and Newgarden.

On the final lap of the race, there was a crash involving Mikhail Aleshin and JR Hildebrand.  The two drivers were battling for position when contact was made under braking.  Hildebrand hit the left rear of Aleshin, caught some air, then went into the runoff at turn 1.

The stewards determined that Aleshin was blocking and penalized him one position as a result.  For Hildebrand, the result was more dire.  He suffered a broken bone in his left hand as a result of the hit.  He is currently not cleared to drive, but will be re-evaluated back in Indianapolis later this week.

The Verizon IndyCar Series takes next weekend off before return to action at Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama on Apr. 23.  The race will air on NBCSN.

Unofficial Results for the Verizon IndyCar Series 43rd Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

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