Charlie Kimball takes first career IndyCar pole in Texas (VIDEO)

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Charlie Kimball secured his first career Verizon IndyCar Series pole on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, knocking off teammate Scott Dixon in qualifying for Saturday night’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Kimball’s average speed over two laps clocked in at 222.556 mph, narrowly eclipsing Dixon’s average of 222.516 mph.

For Kimball, it his his first pole in 109 career IndyCar starts, his previous best being second at the 2016 INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. It is also the 89th pole for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I’m really excited to be on pole. The guys totally deserve it,” said an ecstatic Kimball. “Everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing has been working so hard and the boys have had my back all year long through the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s so nice to be able to repay them with a pole position here at Texas Motor Speedway. The No. 83 Tresiba Honda was really good right out of the box and (engineer Todd (Malloy) made a few adjustments that made it better during the course of practice. During qualifying we just took a swing at it and went out and got the job done.”

All four of Chip Ganassi’s cars flexed their muscle during qualifying at Texas, with Dixon qualifying second (his fourth front row appearance in nine races), Tony Kanaan qualifying fourth, and Max Chilton qualifying sixth.

Alexander Rossi qualified third for Andretti Autosport while Tristan Vautier qualified an impressive fifth on his return with Dale Coyne Racing. This matches Rossi’s best career start (Indianapolis 500) while Vautier has a career-best on ovals (was 10th in 2013) but not overall (third at Barber in 2013).

The top eight qualifying speeds all came from Honda powered cars. Will Power (ninth, for Verizon Team Penske) was the best of Chevrolet runners.

Of note: qualifying speeds were up significantly from 2016 on the newly repaved and reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway. Kimball’s pole speed of 222.556 mph came in at over five miles per hour faster than Carlos Munoz’s 2016 pole speed of 217.137 mph. In total, 18 cars turned an average speed that was faster than last year’s pole mark.

Times are below. Per NBCSN’s qualifying coverage, Carlos Munoz did not make a qualifying attempt after failing to make it through technical inspection in time. Final practice for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 will roll off tonight at 6:45 p.m. ET.

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‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”