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.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)