Monday, August 5, 2013

Kimball Makes Good: A Look Back

I usually write a Monday notebook after every IndyCar race, but this weekend warranted something a bit different. I want to spend today discussing this year's Honda Indy 200 champ, Charlie Kimball.

It wasn't too long ago that Kimball was attempting to make the jump from Firestone Indy Lights to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Back then, much critique was given to his Lights resume, which pointedly did not include any victories. When compared to the records of drivers making the jump around the same time--JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, and others--Kimball's record just wasn't seen as up to snuff by some.

Indeed, there was also a lot of grumbling, as Kimball took his place in what came to be referred to a Ganassi's "B" program--the thought that an unheralded rookie did not deserve jump right into a Ganassi car. Kimball faced a deep learning curve, especially when he was always going to be held up to to teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon--as unfair as that comparison was going to be.

Kimball's first year was not an easy one, and his rookie campaign saw a pair of Top 10s as his best results. The next year saw his first podium, and an increase in comfort behind the wheel. It still seemed as if he wasn't aggressive enough at times, and despite improvement, he finished P19 in the standings once again.

This year, though, has been different. Kimball has regularly placed in the Top 10, has hovered around the Top 10 in points overall this year, and seems to have turned the corner in terms of where he rated in this series.

That played out Sunday, when Kimball made a beautiful pass late in the race at Mid-Ohio to hold off Simon Pagenaud for his first-ever IZOD IndyCar Series. Needless to say, most fans likely had another Ganassi driver--Scott Dixon--as their project Mid-Ohio winner. But it was Kimball that found victory on a beautiful Midwest August afternoon.

Sometimes, we see drivers, know they were born with talents few of us will match, and in enviable circumstances that help them get into racing, and assume they just walked into their career. What we don't see is that it still takes work, huge amounts of work, dedication, and practice to get to the top tier of the sport. For Charlie Kimball, the difficulty was compounded by having to temporarily put his racing career on hiatus while he dealt with diabetes.

That would have been a point where it was easy to give up, or take another career path. Instead, Kimball turned what many would consider a weakness into a strength. He parlayed his involvement into with Novo Nordisk into an IndyCar ride, and the diabetes medical supply company has become one of the most involved and stalwart sponsors in the series.

Charlie Kimball has often been unfavorably been compared to more extroverted drivers such as James Hinchcliffe, with the idea that he's somehow more vanilla or lacking in the social aspect of the sport. Yet he's been unfailingly accessible to bloggers, humble, and an all-around really nice guy. Even that was pointed out as an indication he lacked the needed edge, but this season and Sunday's win should put an end to that.

So, an American driver and Mazda Road to Indy product who has overcome big personal chances to make good got his first victory Sunday. Charlie Kimball has come a long way, and his future seems brighter than ever.

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