Alex Tagliani believes that he is on the verge of competing for the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship. After all, the parity of the current rules package and a slow start by some of the usual heavy hitters has the two-time race winner thinking that he could be in the mix for victories this season -- as long as he avoids accidents like the one that occurred two weeks ago at Long Beach.
Tagliani was involved in an accident with Charlie Kimball on lap 30 of that race when Tagliani gave Kimball a look at the inside going into turn eight. Kimball filled the hole and Tagliani turned the center of the apex, sending both drivers into the tire barrier.
Tagliani finished 19th and Kimball, 21st.
Kimball had just pitted for fresh Firestone black tires and came out in front of Tagliani who was still on a worn set of reds. Tagliani cleared him on the straightaway and swung wide going into the turn, inviting Kimball to dive into the corner.
Tagliani still maintains that Kimball was a bit overanxious, especially since he was on colder tires.
"Charlie said it was an optimistic maneuver on my part," Tagliani told SB Nation by phone on Monday. "That's not optimistic -- that was him being (freaking) desperate not to get passed. But we're going to turn the page. It was a mistake and he just forgot that he was on cold tires and I'm not going to hold it against him.
"It's just that we've had several run-ins with him -- twice at Milwaukee so I told him that he's used up all three strikes against me, so stay out of my way."
Tagliani made light of the situation just a few hours later on Twitter when he posted a picture of himself, posing with a shirt that once read, "Cool Story Babe, now go make me a sandwich." Only for the picture, he modified the shirt to read "Cool Story Kimball..."
Tagliani felt as though he owed something to his team after a frustrating day at Long Beach and altered the shirt to give them a reason to smile and laugh.
"I was upset," Tagliani admitted. "But really, if we had qualified where we should have, this wouldn't have happened. I felt like this was by far the best way to put some humor back in my team and we had a lot of fun with it."
Tagliani recognizes that each team will use several mulligans over the course of the year and that one accident at Long Beach won't prevent him from chasing the championship alone. Despite the accident, Tagliani is still just 49 points behind championship leader Helio Castroneves. Forget that he's 17th, he says because the field is just so close right now.
"I think we have the pace and well-rounded team," Tagliani said. "I think we're going to be strong at Indy and Texas and we were pretty good at Fontana last season as well.
"This is one of the strongest seasons we've ever had as far as the grid is concerned. Regulations are not allowing us to take a lot of advantages. The teams with billions of dollars can't invent their little gizmos and as a result, we're seeing teams like Schmidt and Foyt hit the right set-up and challenge for wins. I think we're close as well."
Lastly, Tagliani feels as though he's just two or three consistent finishes away from climbing into the championship mix. He's expecting good results in Brazil, Indianapolis and Belle Isle and added that fans shouldn't be surprised to see him in victory lane this season.
"If you look at how close the standings are, we can crack the top-five with just one result," Tagliani said. "It's inviting to be a little more aggressive and I think there's a place for that but we've got to focus on just stringing together some good finishes first and see where we are once we get into the summer months."