It's hard to believe we're at the halfway point of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, but that's what we've crossed heading into the weekend at Road America.
The common narrative is to issue report cards this time of year, but allow me to share with you a reality: Report card day was never a Jake Query favorite. So, in lieu of issuing a grade for every fulltime driver, I'll assign one driver whose season best typifies each grade: “A” being excellent, “B” being very good, “C” being the world where Jake Query lived, “D” being disappointing. As for “F,” I accumulated enough in algebra and geometry that I'll leave those grades for my own possession.
Grade: D – Charlie Kimball.
Kimball gets the grade based on greater missed opportunity. It's not the fault of the Californian, but after winning his first career pole, mechanical gremlins reared their ugly head to the No. 83 Tresiba Honda in Texas. He also had an engine failure at Indy and was an incident casualty in the first two events of the season. There's no doubt Kimball has talent, but Lady Luck has not been on his side. Disappointing defines his 2017 season at the halfway point.
Honorable mention: Conor Daly. The American Ninja ran well at Texas and hopes that will springboard better results for the AJ Foyt Racing team led by Super Tex.
Grade: C – JR Hildebrand
Hildebrand managed a podium at Phoenix Raceway after missing the Barber Motorsports Park race to injury. He ran strong at Indy, but a penalty relegated him to the middle of the pack: a symbolic encapsulation of Hildebrand's year.
Hildebrand deferred admittance to MIT and teaches at Stanford, but his grade here is that of the average student. It's nice for me to have the company.
Honorable mention: Alexander Rossi. He qualified third at Indy and has a pair of top-fives, but that is countered with three DNFs.
Grade: B – Max Chilton
There are a lot who fit the billing: Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan and points leader Scott Dixon have all been very good, but I'm going to grade on a curve. (I was ALWAYS a big fan of the grading curve).
In just his second Verizon IndyCar Series season, Chilton had his No. 8 Gallagher Honda leading late at the Indy 500 and held off two charging veterans for as long as his tires would allow. He took home two top-10s at Indianapolis in May and finished eighth at Texas two weeks ago. The Brit's finishes have not necessarily jumped off the page, but he has been consistent and is on the verge of breaking the top 10 in points, just three spots behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kanaan.
Honorable mention: Dixon. The points leader has two DNFs – arguably neither his fault – but has eight top-10s despite not yet going to victory lane.
Grade: A – Ed Jones
I'm again grading on a curve, but the rookie has far exceeded my expectations. The reigning Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion, Jones has four top-10s and has been as high as seventh in the points.
Open disclaimer: Fernando Alonso was my vote for Indy 500 rookie of the year, but Jones has shown that his podium in the biggest race of the year was no fluke. He has run four races with three different teammates, no longer has veteran Sebastian Bourdais offering in-car feedback, but his average finishes have not dropped.
Honorable mention: Takuma Sato. Need I explain?
As I mentioned in my first column, Road America was a highlight for me last season. A legendary road course, the weather, scenery, crowds and racing blew me away. I quickly saw why so many drivers expressed excitement with INDYCAR’s return.
It will be interesting to see if Road America's straights will allow Chevy to flex some straight-speed muscle this weekend (see: Barber) or if the Honda teams will be able to carry the dominance shown in Detroit.
Enjoy! And maybe I'll see ya at the Mars Cheese Castle on the way to Road America.
Veteran broadcaster Jake Query is a member of the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network team and offers his musings regularly on IndyCar.com.