Charlie Kimball has had, by any objective analysis, his most complete season yet in his sixth full-time Verizon IndyCar Series campaign from a pure qualifying and results standpoint in 2016.
He’s finished between fifth and 12th in 13 of the 15 races, and he’s on pace to have his best qualifying average (10.8 through 15 races) by a country mile (his first five years: 18.0, 17.4, 12.8, 16.3, 13.3).
So the driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, who currently sits ninth in points and could match or exceed his career-best finish in the championship (ninth in 2013) with a strong run at the Sonoma Raceway season finale is qualifying and racing higher up the field than he’s used to.
But hearing some of the comments from his competitors on-track, you’d think as though Kimball was this evil competitor who races dirty, drives people off the track and doesn’t have proper race craft. Reading Will Power and Rick Mears’ respective comments after Kimball’s eventful day Sunday at Watkins Glen International made it seem as though Kimball was out for blood on track. When instead, Kimball is actually one of the nicest people in the paddock and has thoroughly improved – and impressed – this season.
Here’s the thing – while both Power and Graham Rahal were understandably aggrieved in the heat of the moment after crashing out on Sunday, in both incidents where Kimball was involved, it was hard to call them anything other than racing incidents.
Looking at the Power collision first, it was really hard to think that Power saw Kimball, who got a monster run up the hill through the Esses, before it was too late when Power transitioned back to the natural racing line, then cutting across Kimball’s bow and crashing into the Armco barrier.
Could Kimball have perhaps transitioned from his run to the inside of the track rather than outside? Sure, but in a split-second decision like that, the momentum was carrying him more around the outside and a rapid dart back to the inside could have also had consequences. Remember, it’s not like Kimball was trying to take himself out of the race when he got the run on Power.
“From my side, knowing the result, if I knew going into that lap that it would cause an accident I wouldn’t make the move,” Kimball explained to NBC Sports. “Once he had no idea I was there or wouldn’t give me the room, it was too late to avoid the incident.”
With the Rahal incident earlier in the race, Kimball left Rahal enough room to the inside and was wide on corner exit of Turn 1. Rahal and Kimball collided and Rahal went into the inside tire barriers after the contact.
“With Graham, I was on the curb,” Kimball explained. “His comment was, he said he had the pass completed, but if there was any contact at all, it was tire to rear, so he was established alongside, and I left him a lane, which I did. It looked like he was going for the overtake button. I don’t know what I should do there, other than give up.”
But Kimball expressed the far more important point that Rahal was fine and Power was cleared to drive earlier this week, to race at Sonoma.
“There’s been a lot of vitriol, and follow-up comments. And frankly, the single most important thing is that Will’s cleared to drive tomorrow and race next weekend,” Kimball said.
“None of the drivers – none of us – wants to see any of us got hurt. We are a family. If a driver can’t compete because of concussion-like symptoms, injuries, we as the IndyCar family aren’t complete. That’s the most important thing.
“There’s always different perspectives of racing incidents. Monday morning quarterbacking is the easiest thing to do in sport! There’s so many people that give highlight reels, question coaches calls, and players’ calls, for weeks.”