RHR, Kimball bank podiums; others throughout field star under-the-radar at Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. – As tends to be the case in a season finale race, plenty of good stories get overlooked in the wake of the champion being crowned and the race winner being decided.

It was no different again in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to cap off the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Beyond race winner and champion Scott Dixon, championship rival Juan Pablo Montoya suffering an inglorious defeat and Graham Rahal’s dream season finally coming to an end, these were some of the stories of note on Sunday:

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay continued his final quarter surge with a runner-up finish to cap off the season. His last four races from Iowa to Sonoma? First, seventh, first and second – and a leap from 14th to sixth in the points. “It was a good finish to the season, that’s for sure… we finished sixth which is crazy coming from 11th in the championship this morning,” said the driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda.
  • Charlie Kimball banked his second podium of the year, first since a third at the Indianapolis 500 and first on a road or street course since coming third at Detroit race two in 2014. “You know, Chip loves winners and to be able to put the NovoLog FlexPen up on the podium. It’s a pretty good day at the office,” said Kimball, who ends the season 12th in points.
  • In fifth, Ryan Briscoe recorded his first top-five finish of the season in the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda.
  • Rodolfo Gonzalez scored a career-best ninth place finish in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, a result that would pay huge dividends for the No. 18 car in the year-end Leaders’ Circle standings. More on this result to come in a separate post next week on MotorSportsTalk.
  • Mikhail Aleshin made it into the top-10 on his return in the No. 77 SMP Racing Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, after starting 14th. It was Aleshin’s first IndyCar start since, incidentally, Sonoma last year – he was seriously injured in an accident at Auto Club Speedway at Fontana last August.
  • The three off-sequence drivers of note who started on Firestone’s black primary compound – Marco Andretti, Oriol Servia and Sebastian Saavedra – ended 11th, 12th and 13th but all ran in the top three at one stage. Saavedra led twice for 12 laps.
  • Running as he has all year – consistently but quietly – Bryan Herta Autosport’s Gabby Chaves finished 14th and secured Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda. Even more impressively, in 15th in points he finished ahead of several notable drivers.