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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Charlie Kimball

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A consistent run of ninth to 12th place finishes in the standings came to an end for Charlie Kimball in 2017, fighting a tough start to the season and struggling to recover from the early season deficit.

Charlie Kimball, No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

  • 2016: 9th Place, Best Finish 5th, Best Start 2nd, 2 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 10.9 Avg. Start, 9.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 17th Place, Best Finish 6th, 1 Pole, 0 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 53 Laps Led, 11.6 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

It was a tough year for “Super Chuck,” who was perhaps unfairly cast as a villain early in the season after back-to-back incidents to open the year with Graham Rahal and Will Power. Poor luck and a brutal first nine races helped produce a year that looked worse statistically than it actually was.

Kimball has been at the top of the upper midfield in recent years, with finishes between ninth and 14th in points the last four years. So losing 100 points to his 2016 haul dropped him eight spots to 17th, but it didn’t feel nearly as big as a regression as that would have you believe.

As noted, the start to the year got Kimball – now in a Honda with Ganassi’s change – off on the wrong foot. Despite eighth places at Phoenix and Detroit race two, Kimball had somehow managed four finishes of 21st or worst in the first nine races and sat 18th in points. Three mechanical issues prevented him from finishing races and at ovals this particularly hurt; he led at Indianapolis when his engine blew there and at Texas, after scoring his first career pole, he led 26 laps but completed only 41 laps total owing to an oil leak.

Results turned a bit better following an early season engineer swap, with Todd Malloy moved to his No. 83 car from the No. 10, and Eric Cowdin moved back to work with Tony Kanaan on the No. 10. Kimball was back to his usual upper midfield consistent self in the final eight races with six finishes of sixth through 11th, and considering the Honda kit’s deficiencies to Chevrolet’s at a number of those tracks, that was a respectable run of results. As he had done that in nearly all of the 2016 races – his top-10 total dropped from 11 to five – it was a sign the potential to finish well was still there.

Kimball and Novo Nordisk gave a lot to Ganassi over seven years. Kimball should push on to their next opportunity with hope of matching his solid run as a capable, front-running IndyCar driver that often punched above his weight. Immediate thoughts are with he and his family in California as they are fighting for everything given that state’s wildfires, before his 2018 plans get revealed.

‘One and Only’ Kyle Larson wins Outlaws opener at Knoxville Raceway

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Paul Arch/World of Outlaws
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The magic of dirt racing wins for Kyle Larson continued Thursday night at Knoxville Raceway, where he scored his third consecutive World of Outlaws victory at the famed half-mile track to open “The One and Only.”

After starting 10th, Larson sliced through the field and passed pole-sitter Logan Schuchart to lead the final eight laps in the No. 57 of car owner Paul Silva.

“Just an awesome race,” Larson said after earning $10,000 for his second consecutive NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series victory (after winning at Pevely, Missouri, last Saturday), his sixth Outlaws victory this season and 14th of his career.

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“I was able to track Logan down and hit the bottom really well in (turns) 1 and 2 and got a run on him.  It felt like I needed to take advantage of that before we got to heavier traffic and slid him and felt some contact. So, glad to see him not in the wall or anything like that. Just, hard work there. Heartbeat is up again.”

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson scored his sixth World of Outlaws victory Thursday (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).

It was the fourth Knoxville victory this year for Larson, who swept a World of Outlaws doubleheader weekend June 12-13 at the Sprint Car Captial of the World. He has more than 30 victories this year in sprint cars and midgets.

The One and Only continues Friday night with another $10,000 feature race that will set the starting lineup for Saturday’s Brownells Capitani Classic, which pays $50,000 to win.

The event is the Outlaws’ richest purse of 2020 and subs in for the annual Knoxville Nationals, which was canceled for COVID-19 concerns. Larson, a two-time Knoxville Nationals runner-up, has said winning The One and Only would be on the same as Knoxville’s signature event because of its tough three-day format.

Through the first of three nights, Schuchart and Larson are tied for second in The One and Only points standings, which factor in qualifying, heats, dash and feature races. Aaron Reutzel, an All Star Circuit of Champions stalwart who finished third Thursday, leads with 430 points.

A crash in Thursday’s 25-lap feature eliminated past Outlaws champions Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz after Cory Eliason spun in front of Sweet in Turn 1 to start the wreck, which also collected Sweet’s teammate, James McFadden. Sweet and Schatz finished outside the top 20, which moved Schuchart into the points lead for the 2020 season.

Schuchart still seemed slightly miffed after finishing second to Larson.

“As the race went on, I felt like I wasn’t hitting my marks as good,” he said. “I would have liked to of had a little bit better of a race with Kyle there. I wish his slide job was a little better there, but he’s got a reputation to live up to. That’s where you let other people make the rules and maybe we’ll get him next time.”


RESULTS

NOS Energy Drink Feature (25 Laps) – 1. 57-Kyle Larson [10]; 2. 1S-Logan Schuchart [1]; 3. 87-Aaron Reutzel [2]; 4. 2-Carson Macedo [24]; 5. 41-David Gravel [6]; 6. 21-Brian Brown [7]; 7. 71-Spencer Bayston [3]; 8. 18-Gio Scelzi [15]; 9. 12N-Joey Saldana [5]; 10. 5-Ian Madsen [19]; 11. 17A-Austin McCarl [21]; 12. 1A-Jacob Allen [11]; 13. 7BC-Tyler Courtney [16]; 14. 7S-Jason Sides [20]; 15. 24-Rico Abreu [22]; 16. 4-Terry McCarl [13]; 17. 2KS-Brooke Tatnell [18]; 18. O9-Matt Juhl [23]; 19. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild [25]; 20. 83-Daryn Pittman [9]; 21. 11K-Kraig Kinser [17]; 22. 15-Donny Schatz [8]; 23. 26-Cory Eliason [4]; 24. 49-Brad Sweet [12]; 25. 9-James McFadden [14]; Lap Leaders: Logan Schuchart 1-17, Kyle Larson 18-25; KSE Hard Charger Award: 2-Carson Macedo[+20]

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson celebrated with his family and team after the first night of The One and Only (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).