Third straight Indy GP fifth place for Kimball tough one to swallow

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INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon and runner-up finishes at Barber Motorsports Park go together like peanut butter and jelly. He had four in a row there from 2010 to 2013.

The same is true for Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball and fifth place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He’s now got three straight from 2014 to today.

And for the driver we occasionally call “Super Chuck,” fifth on Saturday after qualifying a career-best second in the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet almost feels like a bad PB&J sandwich that was short on one ingredient or another.

Let’s face it – 23rd to fifth and 14th to fifth feels like you made something out of the day, as he did in 2014 and 2015. Second to fifth is when the result is hard to swallow.

But the good thing about it is, when you can come away with a weekend with this kind of performance and feel slightly disappointed, it means the expectations are higher and performance better than where it has been.

Kimball’s been off to a better start this year anyway with three top-10 starts and three top-10 finishes in the opening five races, counting this one. This marked both his best start and finish of 2016.

He led two laps today, got out in front of Simon Pagenaud (but couldn’t hold him off once out on cold tires with Pagenaud on hot ones), and then fell back on the final pit stop sequence. He was able to get around Conor Daly late for fifth but was too far back of race winner Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal.

“Frankly I’m a little disappointed with a top five, I think we were better than that today,” Kimball admitted post-race. “I wasn’t awesome on a couple of the race craft pieces but we made progress in the pits.  The Chip Ganassi Racing guys are always solid in the pits.

“We had a pretty good car, the Novo Nordisk car was solid, but the wake behind the Hondas seemed pretty big so I was struggling with that a little bit more.  The conditions being so different I think we got caught out a little bit. The car was definitely better when it was warmer yesterday, but overall a solid day for the No. 83 car.”

The solid day has Kimball a more than solid seventh in points heading into the rest of the month of May and the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, a race he finished third in last year.

It’s hard to call Kimball – who has three top-10s in the 500 – a 500 “dark horse,” but he could well be a very good pick for the remainder of the month. Keep an eye on this team going forward, particularly as Kimball and new engineer Eric Cowdin seem to be gelling well.

Cowdin shifted from the No. 8 Ganassi team once Brad Goldberg, Kimball’s previous longtime engineer, shifted to Ganassi’s Ford GT sports car program and was part of that car’s first win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca earlier this month.