James Hinchcliffe steps away from full-time IndyCar racing

James Hinchcliffe, one of IndyCar's most popular drivers, said Tuesday that he is stepping away from full-time racing in the series.

The Canadian driver said he is not retiring and will explore other types of racing. Andretti Autosport did not renew his contract for next year.

"With a decade-plus of incredible memories in the bank, I am happy to announce I am stepping away from full-time IndyCar competition," Hinchcliffe posted on social media. "This was not a decision taken lightly and it was one made with the full support of my family and closest supporters. There were many factors, both personal and professional, that led me to this decision but it truly felt like the time was right."

On Thursday, Hinchcliffe was announced as an IndyCar analyst for NBC Sports. He will replace Paul Tracy in the booth and call next year's 17-race schedule alongside Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell. Hinchcliffe has previously done pit reporting for NBC Sports and was an analyst last year for some CBS events.

"I've never been shy about saying this was a move I wanted to make at some point in my career, and the time was just right," Hinchcliffe told The Associated Press. "It didn't just happen overnight. But when I assessed the landscape and took the emotion out of it and looked at it from a 30,000-foot view, it was honestly an easy call."

Hinchcliffe will have the most knowledge of the series rules, regulations, tracks and cars since Bell last drove an Indy car in 2016. He is also close friends with many of the drivers and knows it will be a balancing act to be impartial in the booth while not angering any of his buddies.

"I've got a job to do, and you can't play favorites and you can't sugarcoat it," he said. "I'm going to call what I see how I see it, but because a lot of the drivers are my friends, I'll be able to talk to them about things after. They can tell me to go jump, they can disagree, and we can have a beer and a conversation and talk about it."

Hinchcliffe, 35, had a rough season in his return to Andretti in 2021 and scored just one podium finish, third place on the street course at Nashville. His next best finish was 14th twice, at Detroit and the Long Beach season finale.

The "Mayor of Hinchtown" is a two-time most popular driver in IndyCar and was a runner-up on the 2016 season of "Dancing with the Stars." He is a six-time IndyCar winner and started on the pole for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016, a year after he was nearly killed in a crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He started on the front row for the Indy 500 three times in nine appearances. Hinchcliffe failed to qualify in 2018; in 2015, he watched from the hospital after a broken part from his car pierced an artery in his upper left thigh. Hinchcliffe lost 14 pints of blood as he was rushed to the hospital following the crash during a practice session.

Hinchcliffe made his IndyCar debut in 2011 with Newman Haas Racing, spent the next three seasons driving for Andretti and then drove five years with Sam Schmidt. He was released with a year remaining on his contract after the 2019 season and made six starts for Andretti the next year.

He had a full-time ride with Andretti this season but was replaced by Devlin DeFrancesco last month. Hinchcliffe was 20th in the series standings in 2021.

"In 2011, I realized a lifelong goal of becoming an IndyCar driver," Hinchcliffe said. "I remember almost every minute of the journey getting there. There were many ups and many downs. Through all the challenges and uncertainty there were two constants, my unabated desire to make it in IndyCar and my family's unwavering support. In the 11 years that followed, I lived out my dream in a way that a nine-year-old kid, sitting in a kart for the first time, could never have imagined."