LOS ANGELES – James Hinchcliffe has powered through adversity in his racing career. Now on "Dancing with the Stars," the Verizon IndyCar Series driver is confronted with the challenge of his professional partner's injury.
For the second straight week of competition, pro dancer Sharna Burgess sat out while substitute Jenna Johnson teamed Monday night with Hinchcliffe for two dances on “Showstoppers” night. While the performances were strong, the competition on this night was even stronger. Hinchcliffe finished at the bottom of the judges’ scores leaderboard for the first time, in the ninth week of Season 23 of the hit ABC show.
Hinchcliffe totaled 73 of a possible 80 points for his two dances. He trailed retired football great Calvin Johnson Jr. and reality show star Terra Jole by one point and Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and actress/singer Jana Kramer by seven points.
It means fan voting for Hinchcliffe this week is critical for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver to not be the next celebrity eliminated on the Nov. 14 broadcast. Online voting remains open until 8 p.m. ET today at abc.com and the “Dancing with the Stars” Facebook page.
Burgess injured her right knee two weeks ago in rehearsal, but was able to dance that night. Jenna Johnson filled in last week while Burgess rested the knee, with the hope of returning to competition this week. But after consulting her doctor, Burgess opted not to risk further injury this week and coached Hinchcliffe and Jenna Johnson instead.
During Monday's Broadway-themed live broadcast, she watched proudly from the DWTS skybox as Hinchcliffe and Johnson danced jazz to "A Brand New Day" from the musical "The Wiz." Later, the two performed a Team-Up Challenge dance with Calvin Johnson Jr. and his partner, Lindsay Arnold. Hinchcliffe earned 36 out of 40 on the first dance and 37 out of 40 for the second that featured a sheriff/bandit theme.
"We had a huge week in trying to get these two numbers together,” Burgess told IndyCar.com. “It was a lot to take in and James was wondering who he was going to dance with. It was a last-minute decision that we made today on whether I was going to dance or not, so that's really a lot of pressure on James."
Hinchcliffe admitted, "She had to make that decision late in the game and that uncertainty is another element, and when you're dealing with a non-professional, any little element that changes can throw the whole thing off."
Hinchcliffe had a misstep early in his individual dance noticed by all four judges – Carrie Ann Inaba, Julianne Hough, Bruno Tonioli and guest judge Idina Menzel. Each judge gave Hinchcliffe a score of nine.
“It was nearly perfect but you missed a step,” Tonioli said. “But a tiny flaw in an otherwise perfect routine.”
Menzel, who won a Tony Award for originating the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West in the Broadway hit “Wicked,” told Hinchcliffe she “would share the stage with you anytime. You are amazing.”
The 29-year-old Canadian was just glad he didn’t let the mistake get to him.
"I was able to bounce back from a problem halfway through and still finish the routine with the energy that I needed to," he said.
Burgess was proud of how Hinchcliffe didn’t let the early mistake disrupt the rest of his routine.
"Regardless of the mistake,” she said, “I thought he crushed the number and being able to get back in and perform the way he did even though he knew he made a mistake."
Hinchcliffe admitted that he struggled all week in rehearsing the jazz routine.
“Camera blocking yesterday was a lot of a disaster and we did a lot of work (Sunday) night changing the routine to make it better, to try to make it easier for me to deal with,” he said. “I still don't know exactly what it was that was so challenging for me about it.
“Even though there was a mistake obviously in it (on the broadcast), that was the best run that we'd had. … To have a mistake as big as that one was and still get nines (from all four judges) proves that the rest of the number was done well and choreographed well and they liked the concept."
Burgess was relieved when she saw the judges’ scores. "When a nine came up, I was like, 'Oh!'" she said.
"You and me both,” agreed Hinchcliffe. “If you had told me (Sunday) we'd have gotten all nines, I would have told you, ‘I don't know what you're on, but you should share.’”
The driver said he's a “Wizard of Oz” fan. "Absolutely, who isn't?” he asked. “It's a cool story and I love the concepts Sharna did with drawing the camera back, moving along the stage, revealing the different elements of the performance."
Hinchcliffe wished he'd received a higher score for the "Last Men Standing" team paso doble with Calvin Johnson. Hinchcliffe assumed the character of a Western outlaw, with Johnson the sheriff. Hough gave them a perfect 10 score, with the other three judges rating it a nine.
“That’s the reason why you are the last men standing,” Hough said. “You, James, I could tell you were kind of (mad) from the earlier dance. You were like, ‘I am not going to let this determine my fate!’ You guys both came out and rocked it. I loved it.”
The pre-dance video package showed Hinchcliffe and Calvin Johnson, locked in an Old West duel in the dance, unable to refrain from laughing while rehearsing. But they maintained their serious looks for the live dance.
"Playing that character against Calvin was so much fun,” Hinchcliffe said. “We never focus on scores, but I feel like there was at least one more 10 in there for us. I was kind of hoping for another 10 on that one because we really enjoyed it and I thought it came across well."