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Texas polesitter Kimball optimistic luck will turn after rough stretch

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Charlie Kimball enters the second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series in a weird place – exactly double the position he ended last year’s season in the championship.

But the drop from ninth, a career-best in the standings in 2016, to 18th through the first nine races of this year, has been due to an almost freakish cartoon of bad luck that has consistently struck the No. 83 Tresiba Honda, through almost no fault of his own.

Kimball’s best result is eighth, twice in nine events. After first-lap collisions at St. Petersburg and Long Beach put Kimball under the microscope for all the wrong reasons, a cartoon anvil has come attacking him and this portion of the Chip Ganassi Racing team since.

Three Honda engine issues have hit him at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil after leading five laps, and then most recently at Texas Motor Speedway with an oil leak that took him out early after winning an overdue first career pole.

Those issues, coupled with Kimball getting caught out behind Conor Daly’s engine issue at Detroit race one, have limited the improvements in his camp since an earlier switch from Eric Cowdin to Todd Malloy as Kimball’s lead engineer.

Kimball explained what has happened to him the last month or so, while being part of a four-car Firestone tire test at Watkins Glen along with Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Max Chilton and Team Penske’s Will Power and Simon Pagenaud.

“We had an oil leak… they looked for the culprit and they thought they found it,” Kimball told NBC Sports. “By the time they thought they fixed it, we were too many laps down to make it back up and make it worthwhile.

“The important thing is, frankly, that we got the pole. The luck will come good.

“We’ve had multiple engine issues and when one wasn’t in our car, it was in the 4 car (Daly), when his engine cut out in front of us. At Detroit one, I was pretty close behind him through Turn 3 and he didn’t accelerate, he had no power, so he was decelerating. So when I tried to get out and around him, that caught my (front wing) end fence, and put me into the wall.”

Kimball’s unexpected sideline role at Texas as the only car out of the race not from crash damage provided him a bit of insight into how the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 race, ran.

As Kimball explained – and the seventh-year driver from California is generally pretty good at doing so – rather than the simple “pack race” terminology, multiple factors contributed the crash-fest.

“I think for me, it was interesting to watch,” he explained. “Part of it was I don’t think people expected it to race like that in Turns 1 and 2. Part of it was we hadn’t run much in those conditions. And then at least to me, I didn’t hear about the repave until middle of summer. So when it’s that late in the game, it leaves Firestone and the other manufacturers with less time to come up with a plan to test. So we came there, and there were still unanswered questions.”

Just 116 points separate the top 13 in the standings (Scott Dixon has 326 points to Marco Andretti’s 210). Then after a several point drop from 14th through 17th (Ryan Hunter-Reay is 14th on 194 while Carlos Munoz is 17th on 180), Kimball is a further 37 points back just of Munoz, on 143 for the year.

Stat-wise, Kimball has been fine in qualifying this year, although could be better. His average grid position through nine races is 11.4, down only one spot from the same time last year when it was 10.4 – and with more Hondas up front this year than in the past two years, that’s not really a significant drop-off.

However it’s his finishes that have nosedived and contributed to the year-to-year decline. Through nine races last year, Kimball had eight finishes in the top 12, and two fifth-place results with a worst result of 16th. This year, the two eighth places are his only finishes better than 15th, and with five finishes of 21st or worse, Kimball’s average finish has plunged year-on-year through nine races from 8.8 to 17.6.

All that may make climbing up the points standings a tall order but for Kimball, keeping the faith the Ganassi team and the No. 83 crew has entrusted in him – it’s not like he’s forgotten how to drive – is what keeps him motivated going into the second half of the season.

“I draw a lot of support from my crew, the 83 crew and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. That helps a lot. You keep working your process and keep working with the crew. There’s times you carry them, and others they carry you. The luck will come good. Because if not for bad luck this year, we’d have no luck. The pendulum will come towards the good luck swing.

“I think a lot of people miss the opportunity to seize that chance. They get stuck in a rut of bad luck after bad luck, so when it does come good, you need to take it.”

Kimball is optimistic going into next week’s KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, June 25, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he finished sixth last year and after the Watkins Glen tire test.

Despite the “weird schedule” of sleeping in until 9 a.m., getting to the track at 1 or 2 p.m. before running from 4 to 8 p.m. local time at the Corning, N.Y. circuit, Kimball has excelled knowing he’s entrusted to be part of a Firestone test.

“It’s apples to oranges, really, with last year’s kit to the Honda this year,” Kimball explained. “The grip still feels awesome. The track is a blast to drive. Really rewards commitment and a great balance. We didn’t do much tuning on the car.”

Kimball also could afford to laugh at one flashback moment, as he and Power were sat together in a circuit car surveying the track before running on Tuesday. The two collided in last year’s Watkins Glen race, Power having blamed Kimball for the contact but Kimball calling it a racing incident.

“We got back, and Simon was like, ‘You guys OK?’ I got back to my timing stand and had to laugh… it was funny. I’ve moved on.”

After a rough year that has not matched his talent, Kimball must be hoping the results move on as well.

NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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