ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It was an eventful Sunday afternoon for the National Guard Panther Racing team and driver JR Hildebrand, whose day ended early with a 19th-place finish in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Hildebrand was spun-out early in the race and fell a lap down, and while trying to make his way back to the lead lap of the race, he made contact with Team Penske driver Will Power, ending the young American’s day early in the IndyCar Series season opener.

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, J.R. Hildebrand, Panther Racing Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, J.R. Hildebrand, Panther Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Hildebrand started in the 24th position, and was making a methodical climb through the field – reaching as high as 16th-place - when on Lap 27 Sebastian Saavedra hit the No. 4 car in Turn Nine, which sent Hildebrand spinning into the tire barrier.

After a restart from the safety crew, Hildebrand fell a lap down and pitted so the crew could evaluate the damage, which was minimal. After a fresh set of Firestone tires, the National Guard car was able to return to the field.

The team attempted to work its strategy so JR could get back on the lead lap, and elected to stay out when a full-course caution came out on Lap 74 for Saavedra’s single-car crash in Turn Nine.

As the field prepared to make a restart Hildebrand made contact with the back of Power’s Chevrolet, sending the National Guard car over the top of thepole-sitter’s No. 12 car.

Power was able to continue in the race, but damage to the National Guard car was significant enough that the team was out of the race and left with a 19th-place finish.

Hildebrand accepted responsibility for the incident and apologized to Power following the race.

Team Chevy driver James Hinchcliffe captured his first career victory and was joined on the podium in a sweep of Chevrolet-powered cars as Helio Castroneves finished second and Marco Andretti joined his teammate Hinchcliffe on the podium with a third-place result.

JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet: "I’m gutted for Will (Power). I was getting ready for the restart and the field checked up in front of me.

It was totally my fault and I feel super sorry for Will and Team Penske. The National Guard Panther guys gave me a great racecar today and I hat that it ended this way.”

Panther Racing