Giving the One-Off Car a Boost

Normally, you wouldn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the announcement regarding the driver of the third Foyt car for the Indianapolis 500. While the Foyt team generally has a decent primary car (the famous No. 14) at Indianapolis – the third Foyt car is usually akin to getting to play quarterback for the New York Jets or the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can’t pass it up, but you sure wish you had other opportunities.

The performances of the third Foyt car in the Indianapolis 500 have been not good, at best – and sometimes abysmal over the last ten years, in those years there actually was a third car. Last year, it was an odd arrangement that saw part-time Foyt driver, Dalton Kellett, relegated to the third car at Foyt. He finished thirty-first. Prior to that, James Davison finished dead-last in the 2018 Indianapolis 500. In 2017, Zach Veach did a decent job – finishing twenty-sixth as a true rookie in only his second IndyCar appearance.

In 2015-16, Alex Tagliani gave the third car a pretty good run, finishing seventeenth two years in a row for the famous Texan.

2015 was the first year that Foyt expanded to two fulltime cars. Before that, Foyt fielded only one fulltime car – so the extra car at Indianapolis was only the second car at that time. Still the results were forgettable. Martin Plowman struggled to twenty-third in 2014, Conor Daly was twenty-second in 2013, Wade Cunningham managed only thirty-first in 2012 and, well…you get the idea.

So when I heard there would be an announcement on Thursday for their third car, you can imagine why I wasn’t necessarily on pins and needles. But when I learned who it was – it actually made a lot of sense.

Charlie Kimball will pilot the No. 11 Tresiba Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Enterprises in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500, as well as the IndyCar Grand Prix two weeks earlier.

If you’ll recall, Kimball drove the entire season last year in the No. 4 car for Foyt. It was not a great season, as Kimball finished eighteenth in points after scoring only two Top-Ten finishes in a fourteen-race season – a tenth at Road America and an eighth in the season finale at St. Petersburg.

Charlie Kimball is a ten-year veteran of IndyCar, which also includes ten consecutive Indianapolis 500 starts. It has not been a spectacular career, even when in good equipment. His best finish in points was ninth, in 2013 and again in 2016 – both while driving for Chip Ganassi. His seven-year Ganassi career was also punctuated with two nineteenth-place season finishes as well as a seventeenth. Many drivers have been shown the door by Ganassi, in a much shorter amount of time.

But I’m not here to dump all over Charlie Kimball – quite the contrary.

Charlie Kimball has been a punch-line throughout his career – sometimes on this very site. It started when he was the rolling chicane that caused JR Hildebrand to alter his normal line coming out of Turn Four on Lap 200 of the 2011 Indianapolis 500, putting Hildebrand into the wall and handing Dan Wheldon his second Indianapolis 500 win. We’ve all heard the not-so-complimentary nickname, Charlie Pinball, referencing Kimball’s penchant for bouncing off of other cars.

Kimball is an easy target because he’s such a nice guy and won’t fight back. Being a nice guy does not make for a good driver, but Kimball is a lot better than many give him credit for.

There is a general perception out there that there may be a large discrepancy of equipment at Ganassi. In short, it’s possible that not all Ganassi cars are prepared equally. When Ganassi cleaned house after the 2017 season, there were some fairly loud rumblings that Ganassi was taking the sponsorship money from all four cars and throwing all of their resources toward the No. 9 car for Scott Dixon. To be fair, I don’t know if this is standard practice for every team. But the fact there were such persistent rumors about it, tells me that this is not business as normal. Just because it may be legal, doesn’t mean that it’s right.

Is Charlie Kimball the best driver in the paddock? Far from it. Is he the worst? Far from it.

Don’t forget that Kimball has an IndyCar race win under his belt – 2013 at Mid-Ohio, which is normally Scott Dixon’s domain. It was no fluke, as Kimball ran a three-stop strategy and dueled with Simon Pagenaud for most of the race.

When he has a good car, and he’s not making silly mistakes – Charlie Kimball can be as fast as anyone. But he can be his own worst enemy at times also. A perfect example is his 2014 season. He had four Top-Fives and six more Top-Ten finishes; but he also had seven finishes of sixteenth or worse, with four being worse than twentieth. If you are looking for a model of inconsistency in the NTT IndyCar Series, it may be Charlie Kimball. But when he’s fast, he’s fast.

His Indianapolis 500 record is better, although his last four races have been pretty bad. Since 2017, Kimball’s Indianapolis 500 respective finishes are twenty-fifth, eighteenth, twenty-fifth and eighteenth. But prior to that, Kimball had four Top-Ten Indianapolis 500 finishes, including two Top-Fives, with third being his highest finish there in 2015.

Will Charlie Kimball win the 2021 Indianapolis 500? Most likely, that won’t happen. But I will say this; AJ Foyt Enterprises has amassed a very interesting lineup for May. Sébastien Bourdais will be in the No. 14. Bourdais sees something at Foyt that really makes him want t be there, nit just out of desperation. Combine the experience of Bourdais and Kimball’s decent record in then Indianapolis 500s and May could be interesting for the Foyt team. Dalton Kellett is now fulltime in the No. 4 car, and I hope he takes advantage of his teammate’s knowledge. He should soak up everything like a sponge.

As I said, I seriously doubt that Charlie Kimball will win this year’s Indianapolis 500. But I will predict that he will give the one-off car at Foyt the best Indianapolis 500 run that it has had in the past decade. That means better than seventeenth. Maybe then, Kimball will become less known for being a punch-line and more known for being a decent driver.

George Phillips

Please Note:  There will be no post here on Mon Feb 15 for a couple of reasons. We are still in Louisville, but Susan is to see her surgeon today. We are hoping he will give us the green light to go home to Nashville on Saturday. If that’s the case, it will take us some time to get reacclimated to our home with the temporary feeding pump she is attached to – especially with dogs. I will probably not have time to put anything together for Monday. Besides, Monday is Presidents Day, and Monday holidays get very little traffic anyway.

I will return here on Wed Feb 17. Enjoy the weekend! – GP

7 Responses to “Giving the One-Off Car a Boost”

  1. George – Wish you and your wife a speedy and happy return to the great city of Nashville ASAP.

  2. CK is an ok driver however if all the teams were finding there own sponsors and choosing the best drivers available then with respect I don’t think he would have driven for Chip or AJ.

  3. George, have a great weekend and wish you and your wife the best. Looking forward to your next post.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Kimball is probably valued for his budget more so than his experience, but his experience is definitely an asset and his record in the 500 makes him a solid choice for a one-off. He is still the only driver ever to speak to me unsolicited, he’s a good ambassador for the sport.

    Despite some nice races from Pato O’Ward and Conor Daly, Kimball’s 5th at Toronto in 2018 remains Carlin’s best result in Indycar while his 7th at Portland that same year has been bested only twice since.

  5. Doug Benefiel Says:

    May the positive news continue for you and Susan. Hope to see you in Indy this year. Have you ever considered an informal meet and greet at Indy for like minded fans of you and Susan and the month of May. Just a thought.

  6. I agree that Charlie probably will have a good outing at the 500 this year. I too have met him several times and he is always kind and takes time with you.

    Hope you two are back in Nashville soon.

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