James Hinchcliffe taking a risk on 'Dancing' stage
James Hinchcliffe is one of the most personable - and marketable - drivers in the IndyCar Series. He's been a natural fit for the star-strapped series in every promotional opportunity presented, yet he is far from a household name.
The popular Canadian will now step on the biggest stage yet in an effort to show if he can dance. Hinchcliffe will participate in the upcoming season of ''Dancing With the Stars'' even though this is not something that is exactly in his wheelhouse.
''If there's something below amateur,'' Hinchcliffe said of his dancing skills, ''it would be that.''
Hinchcliffe will be the second IndyCar driver to dance on the ABC hit. Helio Castroneves won the show in 2007, but did not receive enough fan votes to advance deep into a 2015 all-star edition.
On a show that relies on popularity as much as it does dancing skills, moving through the first few weeks could be challenging.
That was no deterrent to Hinchcliffe, who returned for his sixth season in IndyCar this year after a near-fatal accident 15 months ago. Hinchcliffe was practicing for the Indianapolis 500 when his thigh was pierced by a broken piece of car during a wreck. He nearly bled to death as he was hustled into life-saving surgery. Hinchcliffe needed most of last year to recover, and the experience taught him to enjoy the present moment.
''One of those lessons is to take opportunities, not shy away from things, don't be afraid,'' he said. ''You've got to kind of live your life. This is one of those things that might not have ever come around again, and it is outside my comfort zone, so it was certainly not a decision I took lightly, but I think ultimately we made the right choice to be a part of it, and I'm looking forward to getting started.''
With two races left in his comeback season, Hinchcliffe is eighth in the IndyCar standings. He nearly won last Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway but was passed on the last lap.
The end of the season gives Hinchcliffe a chance to learn how to dance. He practiced Tuesday and Wednesday in Indianapolis with ''DWTS'' partner Sharna Burgess, but he's off to upstate New York for this weekend's race at Watkins Glen.
He also has the season finale in Sonoma, California, on Sept. 18. Once the season is over, he will relocate to Los Angeles if he advances on the show.
Hinchcliffe is hoping for a lengthy run, not just for his own brand, but for the potential growth of IndyCar.
''This kind of thing, sure, it benefits me personally, but it also benefits the sport,'' he said. ''I've always said from day one that anything that I can do outside of a race car to help grow the sport of IndyCar racing is something you can sign me up for because I've got such a passion for this sport.''
Richard Petty Motorsports has released vice president of operations Sammy Johns in an organizational restructuring to jumpstart a struggling team.
RPM heads into the 25th race of the Sprint Cup Season without a driver in the top 20 in points. Aric Almirola is 25th in the standings, while Brian Scott is 33rd and neither has a top-10 finish this season.
Philippe Lopez and Scott McDougall will temporarily oversee all competition duties previously held by Johns.
''The past several years, we have made significant investments in our organization with the goal of winning races and to compete at a high level on a weekly basis,'' said Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer. ''Unfortunately, we have not seen the on-track results that we expected this season.''
Speedway Motorsports Inc. will offer reduced-priced tickets to Sprint Cup Series next season at its eight tracks.
NASCAR has already said kids 12 and under can attend Truck Series and Xfinity Series races free in 2017.
Now, SMI will allow the purchase of up to two $10 tickets for children ages 12 and under with the purchase of an adult ticket. The offer is good at all SMI-owned tracks: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Kentucky Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
''Coming to the races should be about fun, not finances,'' SMI CEO Marcus Smith said in a statement. ''Now a parent can get his or her child through the gates for an entire weekend of NASCAR events - including pole night, a Camping World Truck or Xfinity Series race and a Cup Series race - for just $10.
''This is one of the best, if not the best, family values in all professional sports.''
Richard Childress Racing will be trying to win its third consecutive Xfinity Series race with a third different driver on Saturday at Darlington Raceway.
Joe Gibbs Racing pulled off the feat in 2008 when Kyle Busch won at Mexico City, Tony Stewart won at Talladega and Denny Hamlin won at Richmond.
RCR went to victory lane two weeks ago at Bristol with Austin Dillon, and Michael McDowell won last weekend at Road America.