James Hinchcliffe understood how the game was played long before he ever made his IndyCar debut in 2011. He knew he had to succeed in the feeder series of Indy Lights and Atlantic (he won races in both) and then go find a sponsor, or sponsors, to get his feet in the door of an IndyCar team. Check.
The next step? Perform above most people's expectations as a rookie and get hired by a front-running team. Check.
Then three years into your IndyCar career, start winning races and earn a nice raise. Check and…not so fast young man.
As it stands today, Hinch is a hot commodity in a cold climate because he's got nothing guaranteed for 2014. Just a few weeks ago, the winningest driver (three victories, tied with Scott Dixon) of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar series looked like he'd have his pick of good rides between Michael Andretti and the fourth seat at Chip Ganassi Racing.
However, since then, GoDaddy has informed John Lopes of Andretti Autosport that it won't be back as Hinch's primary sponsor in 2014 (if at all) and Tony Kanaan is expected to sign with Ganassi this week.
So the personable 26-year-old Canadian whose personality and savvy has endeared him to fans, sponsors and media suddenly found himself as a free agent very concerned about his future…Until he got a phone call from a team owner over the weekend.
"I'll just say it's a good team and it's a pretty damn good deal and I don't have to bring any money, so that was encouraging,” he said Monday. “At least now I'm confident I'm going to be employed next year.”
Of course Hinch is also waiting to see what Andretti can put together since they've had a good relationship the past two seasons.
"Michael is having a big meeting with a potential sponsor and I imagine I'll have an offer before Houston [this weekend]," he said. "I've got to weigh my options and make the best decision for my future.”
The possible teams looking to hire a winning driver without bringing sponsorship are limited but Dragon Racing, KV Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing would seem to be the obvious candidates.
Hinchcliffe isn't saying but he was going to sleep better Monday night because “I have an offer on the table right now and that's a good feeling.”