Charlie Kimball has the potential to surprise at this year’s Indy 500

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The Indianapolis 500 is so much more than just a race for the IndyCar community and the state of Indiana at large. According to Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball, the month of May is its own season.

“There’s winter, spring, May, fall, and Colts season,” Kimball said Monday in Milwaukee for Indy 500 Media Day. “We are smack dab in the middle of the third season right now.”

He could also be referring to the fact its his third season in the IZOD IndyCar Series, and one where he has taken the next logical step in his career. Kimball, who’s known more nationally for having Type 1 diabetes, has matured as a driver through yearly improvements.

He’s in a much better place with preparation for this year’s 500, as it’s his third, and second with the Dallara DW12 chassis. Having a year with the same equipment, after a transition from 2011 to 2012, has increased his confidence.

“It was my second Indy 500, so I knew what the month of May looked like, and what the race felt like. But it was still a brand new race car and type of race with it,” said Kimball.

“This year, the chassis and the team have evolved enough to where it isn’t exactly the same. We did a good job last year to get all the info we needed.”

One of the areas where Kimball – and Honda – excelled was in fuel mileage. Kimball led three laps after staying out longer on a couple stints, and finished a respectable eighth place.

“When you’re talking a race with as many stops as the Indy 500, a lap longer each stop, or two laps, you’ve made up half a stint,” he explained. “Maybe you can finish with one less stop if you get lucky.

“A lot of it takes patience from the driver and team standpoints. If they tell you to hit a fuel mileage number and you want to race the guy in front, you need to understand where they’re coming from and what position you’re in as a driver.

“You can take that spot if you can, but if you can sit there in the draft, protect your spot, but save some fuel, to get that lap or two longer, catch a yellow and suddenly you’ve gained a lap.”

Kimball is not a favorite to win, but he’s an under-the-radar driver who, coupled with the CGR resources and the confidence of two full Indianapolis 500 race distances under his belt, has the potential to surprise.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/