Updated at: 04/07/2013 8:05 PM
By JOHN ZENOR
(AP) BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - James Hinchcliffe went from finishing first to ... finishing first.
Hinchcliffe got the worst of it when several cars made contact in the opening lap of Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, setting off the race’s only caution. Then, he said "something let go in the left rear" while he was warming up the tire and he got stuck at Turn 5.
That’s where the St. Petersburg race winner spent the rest of the race since there weren’t any more cautions allowing him to escape the track. He grumbled after the race he wish he’d followed NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski’s lead and had his cell phone inside his car for entertainment.
"It was just shockingly painful and frustrating, because we were only four corners from pit lane," Hinchliffe said. "I mean, I could almost see pit lane. And you’re watching everybody else just palling around and having a great time. You never want to watching, especially when you’re sitting in a car right beside the race track watching.
"It’s tough but the crew kept me smiling over the radio. We were having some fun banter, just trying to make light of the situation because at that point, that’s all you can do."
Hinchcliffe had hoped for a much better follow-up to his first IndyCar victory two weeks ago.
Instead, he completed all of three laps after starting back in the 20th spot in what became a rough weekend all around. He didn’t advance in qualifying and accused Will Power of blocking him and spoiling his lap, which Power denied.
Hinchcliffe was still smiling once he got clear of the car and made it back to the trailer. That’s how racing goes sometimes, after all.
"The highest of highs and the lowest of lows, that’s what this sport’s all about," he said. "Unfortunately, every driver on earth, you’re going to lose more races than you win. That’s a statistical fact. But it’s the good days like two weeks ago that keep you plowing through the bad days. We still have 17 races to go. We’ve got a lot of time left to have some good days."
Meanwhile, IndyCar said it left Hinchcliffe on the track because it didn’t want to extend the caution period just to get him towed back to pit lane.
He was hooked to the tow truck when series officials noticed his car was missing one wheel, and they didn’t want to risk further damage to his car. Hinchcliffe said his team was "happy to keep going."
"At the same time we were getting ready to go green as the track was clear so Race Control made the decision to leave the No. 27 car, and try to bring it back during the next yellow, which never happened," IndyCar said.
Scott Dixon, who was left on course for a large portion of last year’s race at Long Beach, could understand Hinchcliffe’s frustration. He said he was grateful a fan brought him an umbrella when he was stranded last year "so I could sort of cool off a bit."
But Dixon said the rule book is confusing.
"The rules state, they will tow you back till the last 10 laps of the race, so I don’t know what the deal is with that," Dixon said. "I know I was (mad) when that happened to me, and Hinch should be as well. There’s a whole lot of the race to go. I thought they were going to tow him back, but we already had a yellow ... I think they get worried about these yellows being too long.
"It needs to be in the rule book or they need to tow you back."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)