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Kimball: No. 83 Ganassi team’s consistency “astounding” in 2016

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NEWTON, Iowa – The driver who our NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell has occasionally dubbed “Super Chuck,” Charlie Kimball, has arguably the most misleading stat line and points standing of the year.

The driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet has, in nine completed races, banked two top-fives, six top-10s and eight top-12 finishes, and only twice started outside 13th – this from a driver whose qualifying has never been his strongest point as he’s in his sixth Verizon IndyCar Series season, although it’s gotten a lot better.

Being that model of consistency would figure to put him, say fifth or sixth in points.

Yet heading into this week’s Iowa Corn 300, Kimball ranks 12th in points. But he’s only 30 points in arrears of four-time series champion and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, who ranks fourth.

“I think it’s been very consistent. Our progress in qualifying and racing has been astounding this year,” Kimball told NBC Sports on Friday.

“We’ve been consistently around the top-10. Coming sixth at Road America and losing two spots shows how tight everything is.

“If we sneak a podium or two, and do well at Sonoma where we got a podium last year, that will help. If we contend for a win this year, then that puts us in the conversation for a better standing. Scott and Tony (Kanaan) are up there so we have to work as a team, but a couple good results can put our own 83 team in good shape.”

The aforementioned 83 team Kimball notes has been one of the tightest knit groups in the IndyCar paddock, and through nine races, it’s worth noting that what was already good team chemistry hasn’t been impacted too much by the departure of Kimball’s longtime right-hand man on the timing stand.

Brad Goldberg’s departure left big shoes to fill on the engineering side, but while Goldberg’s gone on to his own well-deserved success in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – his No. 67 Ford GT has won the last two GT Le Mans class races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen International while the car also finished third in the GTE-Pro class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the No. 83 engineering post has been filled just fine by veteran Eric Cowdin.

Cowdin, who’s spent a good portion of his career engineering teammate Tony Kanaan, has given Kimball a different perspective from the engineering outlook this year. But “CK” and “EC” have gelled nicely almost from the off.

“Brad and I still have a great relationship. We talk and text a lot,” Kimball admits. “Eric is different, but he’s been around a lot.

“But the difference is now that in my sixth season, I know what I need to do for feedback. So I give him the info to do his job.

“Having Scott Harner and his strategy has been huge. Partnering with Kate (Gundlach, assistant engineer) and Eric, then with my crew chief Ricky Davis, he has been around the sport a long time. Ricky’s probably forgotten more about this sport than most of us will ever know!

“So on the whole, the group cohesion is still there.”

Kimball’s coming off a somewhat crazy Road America, where he was engaged in a furious scrap for position with a couple Team Penske drivers (Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya) and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, the last of whom was less than pleased with Kimball’s racecraft post-race.

Kimball noted to NBCSN at the time at Road America he didn’t mean to race RHR quite how he did, and elaborated today that he felt he meant to do better.

“There was a lot of aggressive driving and a lot of guys were proactive at defending,” he said. “The racing was great though.

“There was Tony trying to run down Will at the end of the race. Then because I was so caught up in it, I didn’t realize how good the racing was all throughout the field. I watched the broadcast and NBCSN did a great job of covering the whole depth of the field.”

Kimball’s improved quite a bit in his IndyCar career, but short ovals remain his weakest point.

His finishes at Milwaukee, Iowa and Phoenix leave a bit to be desired, although signs of progress occurred earlier this year with his fourth place-qualifying run at Phoenix before falling to 12th by the flag there after a couple incidents.

At Iowa in particular, Kimball has finished 22nd, 11th, 12th, 10th and 22nd, so if he’s to make any headway in points he can’t afford another clunker in the corn fields.

“It’s all of the above why we’ve struggled,” he joked. “Maybe 11th was our best result? But last year were good and then I understeered into the wall. The car was coming alive as night went on. I was really on it.

“We were good at Phoenix. We got shuffled back in yellows and few other things. So it’s nice to come back here with confidence with Phoenix to get ready for Iowa.

“The expectations now have shifted. We’ve made it to the top 12 regularly on road and street courses. The ovals have been good. We just need to keep progressing on them.”

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.