Ganassi’s younger drivers gaining experience in setup preferences at IMS

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The driver stable for Chip Ganassi’s IndyCar team for the Indianapolis 500 is a diverse group.

There’s Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, who have a combined three IndyCar championships, 53 IndyCar/CART victories and two Indy 500 wins.

Then there’s the younger guys: Charlie Kimball and part-timers Sage Karam and Sebastian Saavedra. The trio has just one win among their 135 total races (The Indy 500 will be Karam’s fifth IndyCar event).

Kimball, the oldest of the younger trio at 30, was also the fastest on Tuesday in 13th at 225.467 mph. Kimball reached that mark on the 46th of his 56 laps of the day, which was marked by windy conditions. Kimball said the team for his No. 83 Levemir FlexTouch Chevrolet spent most of the day working on the overall balance of the car.

“We needed to close the loop on some things and find some grip but also find a little better balance,” Kimball said. “It was a tough day with the wind with it gusting pretty hard at times, but if we can run well in the wind, we should be able to run well in traffic.”

Kimball will be racing in his fifth Indy 500, where his best finish is eighth in 2012.

“We were really smart today with tires and were able to put ourselves in pretty good standing for the rest of the week with tire allocation,” Kimball said.

Karam and Saavedra, splitting time in the No. 8 Chevrolet outside of the ‘500,’ have the most catch-up work to do during the Month of May. But one area they’re on common ground with the rest of their teammates and the field is figuring out the new superspeedway aero kits that are debuting in the ‘500.’

That process continued Tuesday with the third practice session at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Today was pretty straightforward,” said Karam, who will drive the No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet. “We were close to mileaging out this Chevrolet engine and we used the remaining laps we had available to work on car setup.”

Karam finished the Tuesday session as the 17th fastest car at 224.838 mph after running 47 laps.

“We went a couple different directions today in terms of setup and found the wrong way to go,” said Karam, who will has the power of a new engine today.

Saavedra was the real odd man out for Ganassi, looking up at most of the field on the speed chart from the 31st position. Saavedra ran 31 laps and his fastest speed was 221.064 mph, about three mph off of Karam’s, on Lap 29.

“We’re using these first few practice sessions for both myself and the team to understand and really get comfortable with the new aero kits,” Saavedra said. “We just want to make sure we’re all on the same page with the car, especially since I haven’t run as many laps as some of the other guys out there. I’m looking forward to getting many more laps in this week and seeing what we need to do to improve the car.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)