Great runs for Kimball, Hildebrand, de Silvestro at Fontana

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Three of IndyCar’s younger stars had nights to remember, if results to forget, in the MAVTV 500 season finale.

Simona de Silvestro, 25, posted her best career oval finish of eighth for KV Racing Technology. Meanwhile Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand were Honda’s last two bullets for the manufacturer’s championship, but potential race-winning efforts went away in the last 100 miles, and left Chevrolet to collect the title for the second straight year.

De Silvestro owed her eighth place, from 16th on the grid, more to the high attrition rate. Her No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva Chevrolet was one of six cars caught up in the Lap 111 crash, but she spun to avoid it and lost a handful of laps fixing the car. As it was good to go, she could collect laps and gain confidence on an oval.

“It was the longest race of my life!” she exhaled after the race. “You know 250 laps on a short oval go by quickly, usually. We started up OK but got caught up in the crash and the car was a little bit bent up. I spun to avoid it and yeah, it just kind of happened in front of us. But we kept going and finishing eighth was pretty crazy! We didn’t have the speed but we had the luck, which sometimes you need.”

Considering her checkered history with ovals, I think it’s fair to say she was due a bit of good luck. Her fifth consecutive top-10 finish carries her into the offseason a career-best 13th in points (was 24th last year) as she and her management team explore their options.

Kimball, 28, got another top-10 finish in P10, his 10th of 2013 in what was a career year for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver as he won his first race (Mid-Ohio) and finished ninth in points. But on this night, despite leading three times for 22 laps after starting fourth, a late-race engine failure cost him a shot at his first oval win.

“We were able to run up front and prove that the No. 83 Novo Log FlexPen car was quick,” said Kimball, who had a great battle with Helio Castroneves in the waning stages. “It was unfortunate to have a mechanical failure that close to the end.  We had a good restart, the car was just getting better and better and we were in good shape for the end of the race.”

Hildebrand, 25, started 15th and ended 11th in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda with the same mechanical issue that happened at nearly the identical moment as Kimball’s. A free agent for 2014, Hildebrand did himself no harm for team owners seeking a potential shoe next year.

“We had issues with cooling all night and we ended with like 30 or 35 to go,” he said. “One of the sides of the car was getting super hot. The car was kind of slow for a little while but we were flat out, so weren’t losing that much ground. Then that restart, everything cooled down. It may have heated up, or just let go.

“But it was fun. We definitely could have finished top five. I know, I know it… it’s definitely a bummer (for Honda). It felt good to have a good run.”