Kyle Kirkwood scores second win of 2023 at Big Machine Music City Grand Prix
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Sunday, August 6, 2023
Photo Credit: AP News
It was less than a year ago that Kyle Kirkwood’s talent and worth in the IndyCar series was brought into question.
In his rookie season with A.J Foyt Racing, the young American found himself in several incidents, and only finished 24th in the standings with an average finish of 20.2.
It was at this race last year that Kirkwood tangled with fellow rookie at the time, David Malukas at Turn 9 and took them both out of the race.
12 months on, those doubts have been silenced.
Starting from 8th on the grid, Kyle Kirkwood utilized a perfect strategy to make his way to the front, and secured his second victory of the 2023 season at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.
The sophomore driver in his first year with Andretti Autosport managed to fend off pole-sitter Scott McLaughlin on the final two restarts with under ten laps remaining.
“I’m not sure (how he held McLaughlin off) to be honest,” Kirkwood said. “He was so fast at the end. But I’ve got to give it off to No.27 crew… they played everything in my favour. I really only made a couple of passes on-track, and they cycled me to the front on strategy.”
Kirkwood pitted later than his closest competitors McLaughlin, Alex Palou, and Romain Grosjean on the final round of stops, and pulled off the over-cut to take the lead permanently.
The win was also Kirkwood’s second career victory, both of which have come on street courses.
Finishing second was the Team Penske No.3 of McLaughlin. After taking pole position by a sizeable margin on Saturday, strategy did not work in the Kiwi’s favour.
Under the early yellow for Malukas’ stricken Dale Coyne Racing machine, some drivers, like McLaughlin, stayed out, while drivers like Palou boxed, and benefited.
McLaughlin fell to fourth after the opening round of stops, and clawed his way back to P2 at the flag on a scorching hot Tennessee day.
“I gave it my all, man,” McLaughlin said. “The DEX Images Chevy was great, I’m really proud of everyone (to get) another Top 3. Bummed we didn’t get the win… I need a few waters and maybe a few beers!”
For the second year running, McLaughlin both started from the top spot, and finished runner-up in Nashville.
Behind him was the No.10 of Alex Palou in third. The championship leader was mere laps away from having to pit for fuel at the end, before two cautions and a red flag for a pile up involving Benjamin Pederson, Felix Rosenqvist and Callum Ilott saved his day.
“We had the speed, but it was improbable after the call we made under the first yellow (to pit early),” Palou said. “We expected more yellows. It was not the right call but hey, we survived. We were saving a ton of fuel for the whole race. Had a lot of stress, but couldn’t be happier now.”
The 2021 champion now leads the points standings by over 100 points with just four races to run. However, Palou still insists he’s not thinking about his all-but-certain second title.
“We’ve done a tremendous job throughout the whole year. All the strategy calls have worked out, and we’ve been lucky sometimes like today. We will keep thinking about races and wins, and once we get to the last race, we will think about the championship.”
Finishing fourth was hometown hero Josef Newgarden, who put together his best ever finish at his home race to retain second place in the standings.
He was followed by Scott Dixon in fifth, who also kept third in the championship, ahead of Grosjean in sixth, and Marcus Ericsson in eighth after starting 18th.
Pato O’Ward, Christian Lundgaard, and Will Power, who hilariously ran up and down the grid looking for his ear buds after the command, rounded out the top ten.
Next weekend, the NTT IndyCar Series heads back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to run the infield road course for the second time this season.
Two of America’s biggest series will come together to race at the same place on the same weekend. Both the NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series will participate in the festivities alongside IndyCar for a big doubleheader weekend.