LOS ANGELES – James Hinchliffe turned in another impressive performance on Monday night's second-week episode of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
On "TV week" theme night, during which the celebrities performed to television show themes, the Verizon IndyCar Series driver and his partner, Sharna Burgess, danced a paso doble to the theme from "The Walking Dead."
They scored a solid 29 out of a possible 40 points from the four judges, tying for the fourth-best score of the night. Last week, Hinchcliffe and Burgess tied for high score with a 31 for their foxtrot. Their two-week total of 60 ranks second only to Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and partner Val Chmerkovskiy, who have been atop the leaderboard both weeks and earned a total of 63 out of 80 points.
Following this week’s performance, judge Len Goodman told Hinchcliffe, "You are a very accomplished dancer."
The praise was welcome because Hinchcliffe spent the weekend racing in the 2016 season finale at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California, leaving little time to rehearse.
Backstage after the show, Hinchcliffe said, "I have always said, and I strictly maintain, I have next to no natural dancing ability, but I'm a hard worker and so I enjoy a challenge. You put something in front of me, I'll put the effort in to do it well.
"This week, for sure, was a challenge with the limited rehearsal schedule, but I think we can be pretty proud of the dance we put together, all things considered.
"We were able to rehearse Tuesday and Wednesday and then I took off Thursday through Sunday and I had videos from our rehearsals to (look) through. I also got videos of the camera blocking. I could keep up with how everything was developing, but Sharna deserves such a huge amount of credit for this week because she had to design a routine that you're taking somebody that you only get a day and a half of rehearsal with to learn -- then she's got to work with all the props and do the camera blocking without me. … It was a huge effort on her part."
Hinchcliffe, known as "The Mayor of Hinchtown," told reporters he's acquiring many new fans "on Instagram and social media in general. It's been great and hopefully makes people want to tune in and watch INDYCAR races."
Judge Julianne Hough suggested Hinchcliffe could become an actor, but he demurred after the show, saying, "I don't know about that. That might be a little bit of a stretch. I'm going to stick to racing. My girlfriend's an actress, so I'll leave it on that side of the family."
Hinchcliffe exclusively told IndyCar.com that he was nervous on Week 2: "Absolutely, as nervous if not more than last week. We had so little time to rehearse and this dance didn't feel quite as natural to me as foxtrot did. It was a little harder to learn the movements and things like that, but given the fact that we only had a day and a half rehearsal, we can both be pretty proud of the performance we gave today."
Despite not being very familiar with “The Walking Dead,” Hinchcliffe felt the spirit of the zombie apocalypse during his performance.
"I think it went very well as far as the rehearsal that we had. It was one of the better run-throughs that we've done. I can say that show night was the best run-through we had of the foxtrot and this is right up there as well.
“There were a couple little things that I could have polished and improved and the judges had some good comments. My dancing career is only 10 days old, so people are saying the judges were harsh, but they were saying what they saw and I'm very open to critique and advice at this point."
Tonight (8 p.m. ET, ABC), all the competitors will face the first elimination of the DWTS season. Judges’ scores from the two dances are combined with fan voting from last week to determine which of the 13 couples is eliminated. Hinchcliffe obviously hopes he and Burgess can make it through to next week.
"You never know, right?" he smiled. "We certainly have been putting in the effort and trying as hard as anybody. Hopefully, America has been enjoying our dancing."
Hinchcliffe said he's had so much support: "INDYCAR fans have been awesome. A lot of them have been through this before with Helio (Castroneves, who won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2007 and competed on the all-stars show in 2012) and were hugely supportive of him and it's great having that community behind you, to support you through thick and thin.”
Going forward, Hinchcliffe told IndyCar.com, his girlfriend, Becky Dalton, "is going to be able to help out a lot in the performance side of it, being an actress. That's one of the things I was struggling with right from the first dance is smile, enjoy, play the part in a sense. I tried to be better about that this week and hopefully that showed on camera."
Watch Hinchcliffe and Burgess perform their paso doble here: