AVONDALE, Ariz. – The focus going into the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix may have been on his more experienced teammates, but Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Max Chilton showed he belongs in the conversation.
Driving a Verizon IndyCar Series for the first time in an oval race April 2, Chilton raced up front all night before finishing seventh in the 250-lap race – the best finisher among the three rookies. Chilton never ran lower than 11th on the challenging 1.022-mile oval and was as high as fourth.
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Fellow competitor Graham Rahal even praised Chilton after the race, saying Chilton’s No. 8 Gallagher Chevrolet was a “rocket ship.”
“I think this was an amazing result for me,” Chilton said. “We were able to move forward and stay up near the front of the pack for most of the race. I think I was even in the top five for a while, but got caught in some traffic and got shuffled back a bit.
“I’m really pleased with the result considering this is my first oval race in this series. Big props to the team for making the No. 8 Gallagher Chevrolet so easy to drive.”
Chilton actually had a top-five finish in sight, until teammate Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden slipped past him 30 laps from the finish. A winner last year on the Iowa Speedway short oval in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires after spending the previous two years in Formula One, Chilton knew his inexperience may have cost him a chance to join teammate and race winner Scott Dixon on the podium.
“Scott won tonight and TK passed me with (30) laps to go, so I think maybe I didn’t have necessarily the fastest car, but I think as a team we had a very, very strong car,” Chilton said. “I did make a few mistakes as a rookie, just because I haven’t experienced it before, where we could have been top two or three.
“It was a really, really strong race and I’m really happy with what we came away with this evening.”