NEW YORK >> In his return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this May, James Hinchcliffe didn't find himself reliving the terror and agony of the crash there that nearly killed him.
"My last memory of the Speedway last year was a great one: I was driving around, my car felt good, and life was peachy," Hinchcliffe said Tuesday.
He doesn't remember anything about the accident at practice last May 18 or the immediate aftermath. Nothing about the broken piece of suspension that pierced his leg. Or the safety crew pumping him with more than 14 pints of blood as they raced him to the hospital.
That is much of why he can so matter-of-factly say of his trip to the Brickyard this year: "It was like any other month of May. We showed up with a job to do."
He and his team couldn't have done it better at qualifying last weekend, when the 29-year-old Canadian claimed the pole for this Sunday's Indianapolis 500.
Another happy memory in Indy.
"I was trying really hard to not associate any of the subsequent pain and discomfort and whatever it is that I went through with that track," Hinchcliffe said during a whirlwind day of promotional appearances around New York City with three fellow drivers to promote the 100th running of the race. "It wasn't the track's fault, as far as I was concerned."
He was injured six days before last year's Indy 500 and watched it from the hospital, where he spent more than a week. After his release, what particularly concerned him about his return to racing wasn't the severe leg injury. Hinchcliffe had also sustained his second major concussion in just over a year. Unable to do much physically, he focused on cognitive drills to hone his memory and reaction time.
"To make sure that I could still make split-second decisions at 220 mph," he said.
Once he was able to start traveling to races, he experienced a different side of the sport in observing the cars with the crews.
"I learned a lot about how decisions are made, how race strategies are called," Hinchcliffe said. "It hopefully puts me in position to capitalize on some situations in the future."
Hinchcliffe was back in time for the start of this season, feeling fitter than ever. Once cleared to return to the gym, he recalled, "I was so motivated to get where I had to be that I kept pushing myself and kept pushing myself and kept pushing myself."
"And at the end of the day," he said, "I ended up further ahead of where I was from a year ago."
He would prefer to be viewed as just another driver starting from the pole at the Indy 500, because that's how he feels. Even if he understands why everyone wants to talk about last year's crash.
"It's a hell of a story, I've got to admit," Hinchcliffe said.
One that's not over yet.
"I came into the month of May really hoping that by the time we left, we'd have a new story to tell," he said. "Regardless of what happens on Sunday, I'm so proud of my team and what we've accomplished. We've at least taken a good step toward closing that chapter and starting a new story."