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James Hinchcliffe remains optimistic despite rough start to 2016

It would be an understatement to say Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix race at Phoenix International Raceway didn’t exactly go anywhere near as James Hinchcliffe had planned.

He had hoped for a stronger finish than 18th, particularly since it was Hinchcliffe’s first race on an oval since his horrific crash while practicing for the Indianapolis 500 last May.

Hinchcliffe had also high aspirations to shine in the desert, given that it was the first return of the Verizon IndyCar Series to the 1.022-mile D-shaped short oval at PIR since 2005.

But ever the optimist, Hinchcliffe acknowledged the bad but also looked at the good that came out of an otherwise trying night.

“The bad news, we were running up hill all weekend after a crash in early practice Friday,” Hinchcliffe said in a media release.

“The good news? Our great team got us back on the track to the point that we got in maximum laps on a notorious short oval, something that should help us later in the year.”

MORE: Hinchcliffe, doctors reflect on his remarkable recovery

Indeed, the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda knows this season will be a work in progress after last May’s frightful crash.

Hinchcliffe has long recovered from the physical and emotional aspects of the May 18 wreck, when a mechanical failure sent him crashing into the Turn 3 wall at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at approximately 190 mph.

He endured several surgeries and several months of rehabilitation and recovery.

But to best illustrate Hinchcliffe’s nature, one only need to go back to when, just a few hours after undergoing surgery on the same day as his wicked crash, Hinchcliffe took pen to paper to ask doctors when he could get back in a race car.

He of course did during his test at Road America last September. After a tough St. Petersburg opener, where he qualified eighth but finished 19th after sustaining a flat tire on the opening lap and played catch-up, he was keen to return to Phoenix.

Then came the optimism heading to Phoenix, only to wreck in practice last Friday due to understeer issues and then play catch-up from that point forward.

“I think we got a direction,” said Hinchcliffe, who was forced to start last in the 22-car field at Phoenix due to the Friday wreck. “The unfortunate thing is it’s the exact opposite of what we were planning on doing coming into the weekend. That’s how different the track feels.”

As Hinchcliffe reflected back on Saturday’s race, while he regretted how things turned out, in his ever optimistic way, he’s ready to get things headed back in the right direction on April 17 at Long Beach.

“Man, a long day at the office for sure,” Hinchcliffe said. “No doubt, missing as much practice as we did hurt us. It took us a couple shots to get the car dialed in to what we needed to feel that we could race those guys.

“Unfortunately, by that point we caught an unlucky yellow just after a pit stop and that put us two laps down. It was sort of the same story as St. Pete, where we were running around tailing the field but where we were able to keep the leaders behind us.

“All in all, a long day. This kind of thing is to be expected when you start the weekend off the way we did. … We will bounce back in Long Beach and hopefully get some good points there.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski