Going into last weekend’s Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Charlie Kimball could feel the pressure, even if he had several reasons to be optimistic about the first INDYCAR race in eight months and in the 2020 season.
Kimball, a 35-year-old from Camarillo, California, was set to embark on his first full-time INDYCAR season since 2018, and he was racing at a track where he has enjoyed success. He had four top-10 finishes at Texas and won the pole in 2017, making him the track-record holder at the 1.5-mile oval with a 222.747 mph single lap speed and a two-lap average of 222.556 mph.
Plus, it was Kimball’s first time serving as a team leader, making his driving debut for A.J. Foyt Enterprises in the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet. Kimball is the team’s only full-time driver in 2020.
"Charlie brings a great deal of experience and skill to the team," said team president Larry Foyt. “He is motivated to show what he can do behind the wheel, and his recent experience of helping develop cars will be beneficial as we work to get the No. 4 car moving up the grid.”
The goal in bringing Kimball onboard this season was to improve a team which has struggled to piece together solid finishes the last few years with two full-time entries. This year, A.J. Foyt Enterprises will run a second Chevrolet entry, the No. 14, driven by a rotation of drivers: Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan and Dalton Kellett.
It’s clear, then, that while 2020 is a building year, it is important for the Foyt team to have solid results and good on-track performance to set the team up for future success. A good first race at Texas felt all but necessary.
Like the rest of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES paddock, Kimball had not raced an Indy car since the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey last Sept. 22 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. But having only competed in seven races in 2019 for Carlin, with a best finish of 10th at Portland International Raceway, the pressure was certainly on for Kimball to prove his full-time status was deserved.
Kimball said driving for INDYCAR legend A.J. Foyt adds even more pressure. Not only is he competing for a legendary name that helped to define open-wheel racing in North America, but the first two races of the season take place at tracks near and dear to Foyt: Texas Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Always looking or the positives in every situation, Kimball used one of his favorite quotes from tennis icon Billie Jean King to keep his mentality in check: “Pressure is a privilege.”
With that in mind, Kimball entered Saturday night’s race privileged to race on a tightly packed day of racing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kimball hopped into his No. 4 Indy car hoping to put together a solid first run with his new team.
The box score may not show it, but Kimball succeeded.
Kimball ran with the best all night long inside the top-10, and even at times battled for a top-five position. Kimball was sixth when a caution came out for Felix Rosenqvist’s spin with nine laps to go. A fuel miscalculation forced him onto pit road during the caution, and he restarted the race 11th but at the tail end of the field with four laps to go.
Unfortunately for Kimball, he hit the outside wall exiting Turn 2 on the final lap and spun down the backstretch, ending his night wrecked with an 11th-place finish, just behind his teammate Kanaan in 10th.
“The car was so good,” Kimball said after the race. “We unloaded pretty well, and I think we made it a little bit better, qualified solidly and then the green flag came out and the car felt so good. I was able to make moves and move forward. A small miscalculation in pit lane meant that we had to make an unscheduled pit stop, which was unfortunate, which put us back and we got caught up and ended up with a little bit of damage at the end of the race.
“Still, two AJ Foyt Racing cars finishing 10th and 11th, I think it’s a solid start to 2020.”
The solid night for the two A.J. Foyt Enterprises entries was a significant improvement over the team’s 2019 performance at Texas when Kanaan finished 16th and Matheus Leist, driving the No. 4 Kimball drives now, finished 22nd.
With three weeks until the next event, the GMR Grand Prix on July 4 on the IMS road course (live on NBC), Kimball said he will focus the month of June on training for the hot summer months ahead, which is extremely important for the driver with Type 1 diabetes.
Just as Kimball had several reasons to look forward to racing at Texas, he should be eager to continue the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in one month with GMR Grand Prix.
Kimball enters the event with a solid track record on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile track. Kimball has a career-best start of second, and he finished in fifth position three straight years from 2014-16. Additionally, Kimball’s No. 4 team finished fourth last year with Leist behind the wheel.
“I think that the month of June is going to be hard, but the fact that we get to come back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the GMR Grand Prix on that 4th of July Brickyard weekend is something to really look forward to,” Kimball said.
Kimball and the entire NTT INDYCAR SERIES paddock will make history that weekend as they take part in the first INDYCAR-NASCAR tripleheader weekend, as the NASCAR Xfinity Series will also race on the road course July 4, while the NASCAR Cup Series will compete in the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records July 5.