Kyle Kirkwood’s third top 10 of his career required him to briefly serve as a tow truck for a competitor.
After the green flag for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix came out on Sunday afternoon (June 4), Kirkwood was angling for position into the Turn 3 hairpin when Callum Ilott took it a little too deep into the braking zone and ramped the No. 27 AutoNation Honda.
Kirkwood’s rear wing was crushed by the flying no. 77, and Illott’s car got briefly attached to the pink No. 27. The Floridian dragged his competitor through the center of the hairpin, conveniently depositing the Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet off of the racing line.
At first, it appeared Kirkwood’s luck from Indianapolis had followed him north to Detroit. Kirkwood suffered a horrific crash with Felix Rosenqvist in the closing stages that eliminated him from the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
However, after Ilott’s car fell off, Kirkwood pitted and his Andretti Autosport crew replaced his wing to get him back in the fight. He finished in sixth place.
“We stuck with our gut there,” Kirkwood told NBC Sports. “We had a really fast racecar and [knew] that all weekend long. We kind of used that to our advantage there. We had some really close racing there. We got hit from behind as you saw and cycled back to 27th and super unfortunate, but that’s part of IndyCar. Sometimes it’s out of our control.”
“We stuck with our gut, we did the same strategy we planned on doing, and it cycled us in front of a lot of cars. We were able to pass a lot of cars because of our pace, and we had great pitstops. We cycled out to [sixth], and I thought that was phenomenal … I was ready for that race to be over with, to be honest.”
Kirkwood’s exasperation with the ending of the race is easily understandable considering his results ever since his first win at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Since then, he hasn’t placed higher than 12th. At the GMR Grand Prix, on-track contact with Will Power forced him to concede a position to the Team Penske driver.
Then at the Indianapolis 500, after being the fastest Andretti Autosport car all month, he was running in the top 10 when he hit Felix Rosenqvist’s spinning car in Turn 2. The collision sheared his tire off, which flew over the catchfence and landed in a nearby parking lot. Kirkwood then slammed the outside wall, flipping over before stopping. Luckily, he was unhurt.
But facing a new Detroit circuit, Kirkwood maximized the mistakes made by other drivers, and leveraged every overtaking opportunity presented by the crash-heavy race’s many restart. Race strategist Bryan Herta called a good race that helped Kirkwood move from last to sixth by the finish. After a challenging couple of months, it might be the result the Andretti Autosport team needed.
The Andretti team has faced a similar troublemaker to year’s past: consistency. None of the team’s drivers have managed more than two top 10s consecutively, and they are falling behind Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske and Arrow McLaren in the standings. Kirkwood’s teammates Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta had forgettable days while Devlin DeFrancesco ran near the back half of the field for majority of the race.
But for one weekend, on a day where Kirkwood started out towing a competitor’s racecar early, he shook off some of the misfortune to grab a top 10 heading into the summer.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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