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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.

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.