Photo Credit: motorsports.nbcsports.com
The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series has officially come to a close, and the championship standings are official. After a solid season during which Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe was in the top 10 in the championship standings and even within striking distance of the top 5, Hinchcliffe has ended up in 13th in the championship standings despite a really solid season driving a Honda-powered car.
James Hinchcliffe had a very successful return to the series after being nearly killed in a nasty wreck last May during practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500. In a season that included 9 top 10 finishes throughout the season’s 16 races and a season-high 2nd place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in the Firestone 600 as well as the pole position for the Indianapolis 500, some bad luck came with it as well for Hinchcliffe.
Hinchcliffe led 188 of the 248 total laps of the Firestone 600, including 157 of the 177 laps on the date that the race was finished, before giving up the lead on the final lap to Graham Rahal, who ruined Hinchcliffe’s chance at his first victory since April 2015 at NOLA Motorsports park and since his near-fatal accident by just a 0.0080-second margin. Hinchcliffe also ran out of fuel on the last lap of the race at Watkins Glen despite being in position for another podium finish.
Hinchcliffe, who was gutted after both races, especially the Texas race, despite it being his best finish in the series in over a year, received a 25-point penalty after the Texas race due to the fact that his car failed post-race inspection due to domed skid wear. It was mentioned throughout the race by the NBC Sports Network broadcasters that he may receive a penalty for this issue, since his car kept spewing sparks from its rear long after everybody else’s cars “wore in” to the track and stopped sparking. Hinchcliffe’s car was pretty much sparking throughout the entire race.
This penalty ultimately reduced his championship points total from 441 to 416, putting him in 13th place in this season’s championship standings behind 5 drivers that he would not have been behind had the penalty not been incurred: Juan Pablo Montoya (8th place, 433 points), Charlie Kimball (9th place, 433 points), Carlos Munoz (10th place, 432 points), Alexander Rossi (11th place, 430 points), and Ryan Hunter-Reay (12th place, 428 points).
This penalty may not seem like a big issue since it wasn’t like Hinchcliffe lost the championship over it. However, the penalty ended up costing Hinchcliffe the 5 spots he needed in this season’s championship standing to tie his career best championship finish of 8th place, which he had done in 2012 and 2013 driving a Chevrolet-powered car for Andretti Autosport. Instead, he finished the season in 13th in the championship standings, which is his lowest finish in a full season in the series (finished 23rd in 2015, but only competed in 5 of the 16 races).
If anything good comes out of this penalty and the fact that it totally put a damper on Hinchcliffe’s season, hopefully it motivates Hinchcliffe to continue writing his amazing story of recovery and determination next season with his best season in the Verizon IndyCar Series of his career.