FORT WORTH—After an eight-month long off-season, INDYCAR returned to live action with the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night on NBC. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there were no people in the stands, and only essential crew in the pits.
With all eyes watching on NBC, including the boss A.J. Foyt, the pressure was on and the stakes were high.
It was at Texas after all, the high-banked, high speed oval in the town dubbed “No Limits.”
Tony Kanaan was starting his #TKLastLap tour in his throwback liveried 7-Eleven Chevrolet after not being in a car since September.
Kanaan prepares to take to the cockpit for the first time since September. (INDYCAR Photo)
Charlie Kimball, who joined the team as the sole, full-time driver had had only three days of testing in his No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet on road courses. All due to the pandemic shutting down races and the testing in between them.
Kimball holds onto the aeroscreen as he slides in to the cockpit at Texas. (INDYCAR Photo)
This year the cars were outfitted with an aeroscreen around the cockpit to further protect the drivers from flying debris. The added weight -- 60 lbs.-- and the altered chassis configuration challenged engineers to come up with setups despite the lack of testing on ovals. Some teams answered the call better than others, and A.J.’s team was among them.
Kanaan and Kimball had qualified 10th and 12th respectively—in the top half of the 24-car grid. They would start further up (sixth and eighth) when several Honda-powered cars experienced technical difficulties on the starting grid.
At the drop of the green, Kimball showed his hand early as he vaulted past his teammate and then Will Power to take over sixth on a track that was hot and slick. Kanaan slipped into ninth. Both of Foyt’s cars ran in the top-10 until the first round of pit stops on lap 35.
Both stops were mistake-free but Kanaan was penalized for violating the pitlane speed rule. A caution three laps later for rookie Rinus Veekay’s accident (he was not injured) resulted in Kanaan’s drive-through penalty being changed to restarting at the back of the field which put him 17th.
Power edged out Kimball on pit lane– more due to Power’s pit box position rather than a superior pit stop. Running seventh for that fuel stint, Kimball regained sixth after the next round of pitstops on lap 80 of the 200-lap race.
Kimball gained spots on pitstops throughout the race. (Santos Photo)
After the third round of stops on lap 121, Kimball gained another spot and was in the top-five. He soon moved past defending INDYCAR champion Josef Newgarden to claim fourth on lap 127 and was challenging defending Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud for third!
Meanwhile Kanaan, still running 17th, was not able to make any gains because it was so difficult to pass cars on track due to the turbulence at the back of the pack.
The next round of stops on lap 156 for Kimball saw him slip to eighth behind Pagenaud as several cars short-pitted (pitted early for fresh tires) and leapfrogged the pair.
Kimball emerged from his final scheduled stop in seventh but was sixth when the caution came out for Felix Rosenqvist who, running third, hit the wall on lap 191 of the 200-lapper.
It was during that caution period that Team President Larry Foyt radioed to his driver that he had to pit again. Kimball needed more fuel.
“Can’t I coast through to the end if it stays yellow?” Kimball asked.
“We don’t think it will stay yellow,” came the reply. “Please pit now.”
The stop dropped Kimball to 11th behind his teammate Kanaan who benefitted from the caution. He stayed out long enough to get his lap back and jump seven positions to 10th.
Kanaan's car looked spectacular under the lights. (INDYCAR Photo)
Due to time constraints, officials opted not to move the lapped cars to the back of the line. Kimball restarted last with three laps to go and tried to gain back some spots. Unfortunately, on the last lap, he got high and made contact with the wall in Turn 2 and slid across the track to hit the inner wall. He was not hurt and still finished 11th, one spot better than his qualification run.
Kanaan ended the night in 10th, the same spot where he qualified earlier in the day.
Scott Dixon won the race from his second spot on the grid. Pagenaud finished second. Third through fifth were Josef Newgarden, Zach Veach and Ed Carpenter.
Larry Foyt, who called Kimball’s race, was distressed after the race.
“Just gutted for the 4 team because until the last stop it was a super competitive effort,” Foyt said. “Charlie was driving really well, and the pit stops were great. Unfortunately, a fuel miscalculation forced us to come in for a splash and cost us a top-five finish. Congrats to Tk and the 14 team for a hard fought top 10.”
After coming close to a podium finish in one of his best drives at Texas Motor Speedway since he started on pole in 2017, Charlie Kimball saw the positive in a night that could have been more rewarding for the 35-year-old Californian.
“A disappointing result for a really strong night for the Tresiba Chevrolet team,” Kimball said afterwards. “The car was so good. We unloaded pretty well, and I think we made it a little bit better, qualified solidly. 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. It 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. I can’t wait to get back in the car for the next NTT INDYCAR Series race.”
Kanaan, who never gave up, was satisfied to finish 10th given his tough circumstances.
“A difficult race,” Kannan summed up. “I had a little mistake in pitlane. First time in 23 years, I got a speeding violation and that cost us track position. From then on, I was just trying to minimize the damage because track position was extremely important. But I had a great qualifying and at the end of the race, we actually got lucky and got the yellow at the right time. We gained seven positions and finished in the top-10 so I’ll take it.”
Kimball will be back in action in the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet on July 4th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the GMR Grand Prix. Kanaan will return to the No. 14 for the doubleheader at Iowa Speedway July 17-18.