INDIANAPOLIS – As in 2014, Charlie Kimball wasn’t really on the radar heading into the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but emerged at the end of the race with his first top-five finish of the season.
Last year it was a 23rd to fifth, and this year it was a 14th to fifth run aboard the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
The result today is not only his first top-five but also his first top-10 result of the year.
Kimball had to take the escape road to avoid the first corner chaos and wound up one of several drivers who pitted on Lap 2. He was back to the top-10 – in 10th – by Lap 34 and made it to the lead by Lap 62 before making his final pit stop of the race.
The gained track position over those 60 laps put him in position to not lose too much when he made his final stop. He reemerged in sixth, which became his final finishing position of fifth once James Hinchcliffe pitted for the final time on an off-sequence strategy on Lap 75.
“A lot of it came to the car just being that good,” Kimball told ABC’s Jon Beekhuis post-race. “A lot of credit goes to the Team Chevy guys. The aero kits are competitive in the corners, and had the horsepower down the straights.
“A lot of it happened in pit lane and so much has to go to the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi guys in the pits. Good stops, good in and out laps, they gave me a fuel mileage number and car was quick and able to hit that number.”
How good would he have been if he qualified better?
“That’s always gotta be the comment right?” he added. “I’d like to keep racing like I am and qualify a lot better. That’s our goal heading into the rest of the month, and go have a good race like that one.”
It was nice for Kimball, who has been the target of various other cars this year, to have a trouble-free race and end P5.
He also ended best of the quartet of Chip Ganassi Racing cars. Teammates Tony Kanaan (seventh) and Scott Dixon (10th) at least made it three CGR cars in the top-10, while Sebastian Saavedra ended 17th in his second start of the season.
Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.
Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.
A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.
“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”
Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.
He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.
“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.
“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.
“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.
“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”
Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.
“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.
“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”
Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.
Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.
“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.
“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”
This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.