J.R. Hildebrand was one mistake-free corner away from winning the Indianapolis 500 last year. That's it. One turn.
In the year since, he's fielded countless questions about his collision with the Turn 4 wall and what was a life-changing miscalculation.
Fans who approach Hildebrand to talk about last year's race often express their sympathy, but some go so far as to give him this advice: Look out for the wall in Turn 4.
"The stuff that people will come up and say to you is sort of unbelievable sometimes," Hildebrand said with a laugh. "It's like, 'OK, really? How many more times does somebody have to tell me to watch out for the Turn 4 wall?'"
Hildebrand said some of the fans who tell him to be careful in Turn 4 aren't joking, but giving sincere advice.
"You almost feel bad, because they think they're doing you a favor!" Hildebrand said, laughing again. "It's like, 'Oh, well maybe if he had just been watching out for it a little bit more...' It's like, 'Really?'"
The good-natured driver said none of the questions or comments bother him, though, because "it's just all part of the deal."
"I don't get bent out of shape about it," he said.
Hildebrand, as you can probably tell, appears to be a relentlessly positive individual. For example: When talking about the reconstructive knee surgery he had in the offseason, Hildebrand called it "nice to have something else to focus my time on."
From the moments after he wrecked until Thursday's Indy 500 Media Day, Hildebrand has been level-headed and practical about how he views the crash.
He won't let himself look at last year's Indy 500 as "the one that got away," he said, because it was his first try.
"Given the circumstances, I don't really regret the decision I made to try and go for the pass," he said. "It just didn't really work. In a more general sense, the fact we were in that position by just doing what we were doing – making the right calls, basically – gives us all the confidence we can do it again."
That consistency in his approach to answering questions has actually made it much easier on him throughout the last year, he said. Instead of making excuses or blaming someone else, Hildebrand has owned up to making the wrong decision the entire time.
"I made no bones about what happened and how things went down in my mind when it happened," he said. "So that's made it fairly easy to answer questions about it, because I haven't really had to backpedal or say, 'Oh, I was just pissed off about it at the time and here's what really happened.' I just kind of explained it for what it was. I've sort of been able to stick with that."
Still, despite how well he's handled the aftermath, Hildebrand said he's looking forward to getting through Turn 4 cleanly this year on lap 200 – regardless of where he's running in the race.
That way, he said, "we can kind of turn the page and start moving forward."