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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.