Kimball scores first IndyCar victory
Charlie Kimball slipped by Simon Pagenaud with 18 laps remaining and pulled away to win the Indy 200 on Sunday at Mid-Ohio.
Racing in a backup car after wrecking in practice Saturday morning, Kimball beat Pagenaud to the finish line by more than 5 seconds for his first career IndyCar victory.
Pagenaud held on for second. Dario Franchitti was third, followed by Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Points leader Helio Castroneves rallied from 15th to sixth. Scott Dixon's bid to win a fourth straight race never materialized. He finished seventh.
Kimball, a diabetic in his third season with Chip Ganassi Racing, had only led 15 laps in his IndyCar career before dominating after taking the lead from Hunter-Reay a third of the way through the 90-lap event. Kimball led a race-high 46 laps in all, including the final 18 after he roared by Pagenaud.
IndyCar extended the length of the annual to the technically demanding 2.258-circuit by an additional five laps this year, hoping it wouldn't turn into a parade where the winner is determined by who massages the best fuel mileage out of their cars.
Hunter-Reay and Power tried to make it happen anyway. Hunter-Reay nearly matched the track record during qualifying Saturday but eased off the gas a bit after the green flag dropped Sunday, hoping to only need two pit stops to cover the 203-mile race instead of three.
Kimball went the other way. Hammering down through each of the 13 turns forced him to use more fuel, but he made up the difference by consistently clocking faster laps than Hunter-Reay and Power. Kimball assumed the lead when Power, Hunter-Reay and Dixon pitted 30 laps in and never allowed any member of the trio to recover.
Instead of dueling with three of the series' biggest stars, Kimball found himself fighting with Pagenaud, who took the lead when Kimball went in for his third and final pit stop. The Frenchman went in for his final stop a few minutes later and managed to emerge from pit lane with the lead while Kimball charged across the finish line at full speed just behind him. Pagenaud even successfully blocked Kimball's initial attempt to squeeze by as they entered Turn 1.
The triumph proved only temporary.
Kimball remained right in Pagenaud's rearview and slipped by on the long straightaway exiting Turn 3 then had little trouble the rest of the way. The remainder of the top five wasn't in sight as Kimball zipped by the finish line to continue Ganassi Racing's dominance at arguably the most difficult road course on the schedule.
For once, however, the dominance came from a place other than team leaders Dixon and Franchitti.
Dixon came in as the hottest driver in the series thanks to victories in Pocono and a weekend sweep in Toronto last month. His bid to become the first open-wheel driver in a North American series to take four straight checkered flags since 2006 never happened. Dixon failed to make a serious bid for the lead and spent the last few laps battling with a charging Castroneves for sixth.
Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion still searching for his first season title, managed to keep Dixon behind him to slightly pad his lead in the standings. The Brazilian will take a 31-point lead over Dixon heading to Sonoma on Aug. 25. Defending champion Hunter-Reay is 65 points back in third.
Kimball's time as a legitimate threat to challenge for a title has yet to come. Yet in his third year with one of IndyCar's finest teams, he's proving Chip Ganassi Racing is just a two-man show.
He reached the podium for the second time in his career with a runner-up finish to Dixon at Pocono on July 7 then outshined both of his high profile teammates on Sunday.
Still, his breakthrough appeared unlikely on Saturday when Kimball spun out in damp conditions during a practice session and slipped off the track in Turn 1 and smacked into the tire barrier. The impact crushed the right side of his primary car. Kimball spent a couple of anxious hours watching Chip Ganassi Racing crew members — including guys from both Franchitti's and Dixon's teams — scramble to get the backup car ready in time for qualifying.
Kimball recovered to post the fifth-best time then bulled his way to the front on Sunday with the kind of aggressive driving that endeared him to Ganassi in the first place.