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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Max Chilton

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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the third-ranked rookie this season, was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

Max Chilton, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2015: Indy Lights
  • 2016: 19th Place, Best Finish 7th, Best Start 4th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 2 Laps Led, 13.9 Avg. Start, 16.1 Avg. Finish

Max Chilton seemed to combine the 2015 seasons of Sage Karam, his predecessor at Chip Ganassi Racing, and James Jakes, a fellow Brit who made it over to IndyCar, in his maiden season in IndyCar. It wasn’t particularly memorable, it fell short of expectations, but yet it wasn’t as bad as it seemed – it was just made worse by the fact in a super deep 22-car field, someone has to finish 19th in points.

Like Karam, where Chilton actually did best was on the ovals. He starred early at Phoenix, followed up his Iowa Indy Lights win with a career-best qualifying of fourth (but spun out of the race), did a solid job at Indy to bounce back from a qualifying day crash and made it through his first go-around at Pocono and Texas by finishing both.

Where he was underwhelming and probably underachieved – I’d imagine by his own estimation as well as mine – was on the permanent road courses that should have been his bread and butter. I’d have expected more than one Firestone Fast Six run, and at least one or two podiums. Instead, it took until Watkins Glen for him to even get his first – and only – top-10 result on said course this year. Whether it was poor luck, poor strategy, poor pit stops or a combination of the above Chilton was never in the frame as much as you would have thought.

The nadir of his year was Detroit, a double DNF weekend where a steering rack broke in race one and he was caught up in another accident on the opening lap of race two. Otherwise, the usually safe pair of hands didn’t have another DNF all season.

Chilton’s a likable guy once you get to know him. He has a good wit, a solid sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously. His IndyCar-aoke routine with Matthew Brabham going into Indianapolis was a funny moment. He quickly established a good working rapport with the Ganassi team and worked to soak up every fiber of information he learned from Dario Franchitti, which was a canny move. He also appreciated the level of competition in IndyCar; qualifying well is a sign here of your ability level, and this was an opportunity he was never afforded in F1 owing to the machinery deficit.

He and I joked throughout the year about our propensity for bumping into each other in airports – usually his “adopted U.S. home of Chicago O’Hare” – but I wonder if a more permanent move to Indianapolis this year might have helped him.

I’d like to see him back, though, because he has the ability level, he’s a good teammate – that was witnessed not just at Ganassi but also with his support for his Indy Lights team, Carlin, throughout the year – and he does want to get better.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).