Kimball powers through to first Fast Six

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Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball has his paint scheme inverted this weekend. On Saturday, his qualifying result was turned upside down as well.

In two-plus seasons of IZOD IndyCar competition, Kimball’s best start was seventh at Motegi, Japan’s road course in 2011, but in 2012 he didn’t better 13th at any point. After 14th in St. Petersburg, Kimball advanced to his first Firestone Fast Six with P5 on the grid.

“I think we went away over the winter and sort of evaluated where we needed to make progress,” Kimball said. “The whole Novo Nordisk team is focused on that as a group, being able to learn from Scott and Dario from all of last year’s data and have the time on the winter to apply it.”

Kimball’s team rolled off the truck with the No. 83 Race with Insulin Dallara-Honda closer to the sharp end of the grid this weekend, and it’s paid dividends.

“We had a good test before Christmas here. In the open test we made progress,” Kimball said of the two offseason tests he and the CGR squad had at Barber. “We didn’t come with the best car and left with a big step forward. When we came back here, we sort of were a little more prepared and still managed to take a step from the open test to here.”

Kimball’s fastest lap through three sessions was 1:07.1552 in the first session, although his time in the Fast Six was three tenths slower on a warmer track. That was still four tenths off Scott Dixon’s new track record lap, but well ahead of Dario Franchitti.

Whether the result is an aberration or a sign of things to come remains to be seen. For now though, Kimball and the Novo Nordisk team has taken their first step toward the next level in the fiercely competitive field.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race the No. 3 vs. IndyCar stars in Michigan iRacing

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).