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Rookie Kirkwood Relishes First-Ever IndyCar Top 10 at Long Beach

Kyle Kirkwood scores first IndyCar top finish at Long Beach.
Kyle Kirkwood scores first IndyCar top finish at Long Beach.
Kyle Kirkwood captured his first-ever top 10 finish in the NTT IndyCar Series last Sunday at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Image courtesy of Joe Skibinski / Penske Entertainment

Third time was the charm for Kyle Kirkwood.

The rookie pilot of the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet was making just his third career start in the NTT IndyCar Series, and delivered with a stout 10th-place finish in last Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Kirkwood, the only driver to claim championships on all three levels of the Road to Indy – IndyCar’s development ladder system, got the attention of many after breaking into the Fast 12 in qualifying. From there, the momentum carried over into the race where the team utilized the favored two-stop strategy for the 85-lap contest.

The 23-year-old Floridian managed to avoid the chaos of the tricky 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit that struck a handful of other contenders, and went on to quietly deliver the best result of the season to date for the 2022 rookie class.

For Kirkwood, the result was much-needed after seeing a couple of tough outings to start the year, including the last round at Texas where he charged through the field and led five laps before a mid-race crash derailed hopes of a promising finish.

“The race went exceptional for us at A.J. Foyt Racing,” Kirkwood said. “It’s a sweet ‘win’ for us because we’ve had a couple of finishes we didn’t want with the pace we had. (Sunday) we had the pace and we were able to show that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make some passes happen but we got into the top-10. We were absolutely solid on the red (alternate) tires. I felt like we could make some passes but everyone was a little too bunched up in the first stint to make that happen. Once we went to the black (primary) tires, we were able to run with everyone else who was in front of us but it was a bit of a fuel-saving game so we were all kind of sitting in limbo. The restarts here are just so tough because you come out of the last corner and it’s a massive accordion effect. You can’t make passes happen into Turn 1. It’s so tight between the walls to make the passes anywhere else. It’s just so difficult.”

Kirkwood also acknowledged the pride within the team after battling amongst the likes of Andretti Autosport, Arrow McLaren SP, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. Overall, it’s something to help carry momentum forward as the focus shifts to the open test on April 20-21, where Kirkwood will get his first taste running around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“We’re right there with the big dogs and we’re right there with the big teams,” he added. “We were quick (Sunday) and we showed that. All we did was go forward. It was solid points for the team. I’m super happy and everyone is smiling. We’re looking forward to going testing at Indianapolis here in a couple of weeks.”

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