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Kimball equals career-best start; all Ganassis in top eight at PIR

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Two, four, six, eight… the qualifying for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix was fairly great.

Tony Kanaan took the No. 10 GE LED Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to second on the grid with a two-lap average of 191.511 mph to led the Ganassi quartet, and his three teammates slotted in fourth, sixth and eighth behind them.

While you’d expect Kanaan and Scott Dixon to do well in qualifying – the two are two of the four drivers who’ve raced at PIR previously – seeing Charlie Kimball in fourth and Max Chilton in eighth were also welcome surprises.

Both set career-best starting positions within the Verizon IndyCar Series. Kimball had three top-five starts in 2013, but none since.

Kimball, in the No. 83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, equals a career best also set at the 2013 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana while Chilton, in his first IndyCar oval start in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, has his best start in two races.

“I’m pretty happy. It looks like the Team Chevy guys have a solid handle on things,” Kimball said post-qualifying.

“Everyone went away and worked on it. It’s nice to see all the cars up front. Pretty solid. We worked on a couple qualifying sims in practice, but with yellows and incidents it was broken up.

“We’ll be in solid shape for tomorrow night. If the track races like it tested, (track position) will be critical. Passing is at a bit of a premium, will have to make it happen in qualifying and then run consistently, in and out laps. So, the obvious things!”

Chilton was also relatively happy with his maiden IndyCar oval qualifying effort.

“It feels smoother and I’m more comfortable. Naturally the second time back at a track, you’re more comfortable,” Chilton told NBC Sports.

“I felt that the first lap out of the box this morning. That’s not pole, but it’ll be decent.”

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.