By Stephen Hawkins
AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas — James Hinchcliffe has been leading the IndyCar race at Texas for such a long time.
When the rain-interrupted race resumes on lap 72 Saturday night at the high-banked — and hopefully dry — 1 1/2-mile oval, Hinchcliffe will have led for 76 days.
“It’s better than not leading at all, that’s for sure,” Hinchcliffe said, with a chuckle. “The most important thing is that we’re still leading at the end.”
A lot has happened in the 2 1/2 months since that waterlogged June weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, including the completion of five other IndyCar Series races. Will Power won three of them, the last being 500 miles at Pocono on Monday after a one-day rain delay.
Since the Texas race was red-flagged on June 12 — and technically still is — the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup, and LeBron James led the Cavaliers to an NBA title that ended Cleveland’s 52-year major title drought.
Among other sports headlines in that span, Andy Murray and Serena Williams added Grand Slam titles by winning at Wimbledon, three major champions were crowned in golf, and Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Michael Phelps won more gold medals at the Olympics in Rio this month.
“It’s unique in that James Hinchcliffe has been leading for 2 1/2 months, and surely he’s got to go to the bathroom before we get started here,” speedway President Eddie Gossage said with a smile.
“It’s been fun. There’s been a lot of interesting chatter on Twitter, and certainly Eddie reminding people every other day that I’m still leading,” Hinchliffe said. “Hopefully, he can be telling people every other day that we won the race.”
Hinchcliffe, the Indianapolis 500 polesitter who led 27 laps before finishing seventh there in May, hasn’t led another lap since leaving Texas.
The last time an IndyCar race started and resumed another day was at Brazil in 2011, but that was only 24 hours. After the first 14 laps and a 2 1/2-hour rain delay there, the final 41 laps were completed the next day with polesitter Power winning.
“It’s unlike anything we’ve done before as far as rainouts go,” Power said about going back to Texas, where he will resume running fourth.
Unlike the quick resumption in Brazil five years ago, IndyCar drivers are returning to Texas 11 weeks later and will have only a 10-minute practice session before starting to race again.
Only 71 of the scheduled 248 laps were completed in June , when the Firestone 600 was initially postponed from Saturday night without the cars ever making it to the starting grid. After the race started 40 minutes late Sunday and then the rain returned, the decision for an unprecedented months-long delay was made since there was more wet weather in the immediate forecast.
Heavy rain fell for several hours after the cars came off the track 54 laps shy of what was needed to make it an official race. There were indeed more downpours the following day.
Since IndyCar rules don’t allow for starting over a race that has already taken the green flag, the only choice was to resume the race from where it was stopped.
Hinchcliffe took the lead for the first time on lap 41, the last green-flag lap counted before a hard crash involving Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly, who won’t be allowed to resume this weekend. Newgarden sustained a broken collarbone and small fracture in his hand, but won a month later at Iowa.
There were 30 laps run under caution while track officials worked to repair the damaged safety barrier, and that work was still being done along the frontstretch when the rain started falling again.
“I’ll be perfect honestly, I tried to convince IndyCar to restart the race, as did several drivers, but their rulebook says what it says and I can’t fault them for that,” Gossage said. “It’s just one of those unfortunate things … who would think it’s going to rain, and rain for days and we knew we couldn’t do it.”