The glass ceiling of victory is finally shattered all around Kyle Kirkwood.
After a frustrating rookie IndyCar season with A J Foyt Racing in 2022 and two races wondering what could have been with Andretti Autosport in 2023, the Jupiter, Florida native picked up his first NTT IndyCar Series victory in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Starting from pole position, the 24-year-old led 53 of the race’s 85 laps around the 1.968-mile street circuit and beat teammate Romain Grosjean to the finish by just under a second. Marcus Ericsson finished third for Chip Ganassi Racing and takes the points lead by 15 over Pato O’Ward who finished 17th.
Kirkwood led from pole at the start of the race but there was a full course yellow almost immediately after the start. Helio Castroneves spun coming out of the first turn and stalled the No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda.
The 2021 Indy NXT champion led again on the restart and kept the field at a distance until the race’s next full course yellow on Lap 20. O’Ward went to overtake Scott Dixon for sixth place and the pair had contact at the apex of Turn 8. That contact sent Dixon into the tire barrier.
On the restart, the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda lost some time behind new race leader Agustin Canapino who did not stop under the full course yellow. As Josef Newgarden took the race lead, O’Ward and Kirkwood had contact causing O’Ward to spin and lightly hit the same barrier that Dixon did.
Newgarden kept the lead until his pit stop at the end of Lap 52, giving Kirkwood the lead. Kirkwood made his final stop two laps later and blended out of the pits ahead of the rest of the field.
While Kirkwood maintained the lead, Newgarden fell to 10th place, but finished ninth after Alexander Rossi stopped his car in a tire barrier on the last lap of the race.
Kirkwood’s win comes after a hectic first two races of the 2023 season. Kirkwood hit the wall during the final round of qualifying for the season-opening race at St. Petersburg before leaping over Rinus VeeKay during the race. At Texas, Kirkwood had a pit road collision with Rossi that eliminated both from race-winning contention.
That led to a relatively straightforward win for Kirkwood who also scored his first IndyCar top-10 finish at Long Beach in 2022 and his first podium finish in Sunday’s race.