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.

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski