Kirkwood Survives Late Restarts for Second Win

In a tumultuous year for Andretti Autosport, Kyle Kirkwood has been the one constant. The second-year driver led the final 27 laps and held off the field on two late restarts to secure his second win of 2022 on the streets of Nashville. He’s the only driver to win for Andretti this season, and it’s his second on a street course, with the other coming in Long Beach back in April. 

“The first one was absolutely amazing at Long Beach,” Kirkwood said during his post race press conference. “Now this is a step in the right direction. This helps us in our championship, get us back in the top 10 range, I imagine. This was a phenomenal day for Andretti Autosport on the 27 car.”

“Andretti Autosport, AutoNation Honda keep giving me a great car that’s good on street courses,” Kirkwood added. “This should be more than two wins, to be honest, on street courses given the cars they’ve given me.”

Kirkwood started 8th, and worked his way forwards throughout the afternoon. The initial pit cycle highlighted Kirkwood as one of a few drivers included in the race-win conversation, as well as Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean.

McLaughlin led the first 24 laps from the pole before ceding the lead to Grosjean, who had driven forwards from a 6th place starting spot. Following a caution on lap 14 where David Malukas’ rear wing failed, Alex Palou pitted from the top 5. The strategy call, expected to be common among the frontrunners, left Palou off-sequence and forced the points leader to save fuel all afternoon– which also took him out of the conversation for the race win. 

“We made a really aggressive call on that first yellow, like lap 13 or 14,” Palou acknowledged post race. “We pitted. It was the plan honestly. We spoke about it. I was pushing for it. It wasn’t the right call today.”

Grosjean, Kirkwood, Palou, and McLaughlin traded the lead for 30 laps as each team sorted out their own independent strategies. Kirkwood grabbed the top spot for good on lap 54, and was set for smooth sailing until things changed drastically with 10 laps remaining. 

2022 INDY NXT champion Linus Lundqvist, making his first IndyCar start in relief of injured Simon Pagenaud for Meyer-Shenk Racing, missed his line in turn 11 and crashed into the concrete wall, ending his day. The rookie was having a strong run, but it came to a premature end. 

The following restart was barely green at all before the caution flag flew again, when Benjamin Pedersen, Augustin Canapino, and Benjamin Pedersen tangled coming to green. Because of the positioning of the wrecked race cars, IndyCar officials red flagged the race to ensure a green-flag finish.

On the final restart of the day, following the red flag, Kirkwood drove away from Scott McLaughlin with only 4 laps remaining. Kirkwood would hold on as McLaughlin, who had a poor restart, mounted a late charge that came up just a few car lengths short. 

McLaughlin was critical of himself following his runner-up effort.

“I was trying to do my best to hunt him [Kirkwood] down at the end,” McLaughlin said. “I just had a poor restart. I had no temp in my rear tires for some reason. So annoying. I don’t know what happened. Like I didn’t change my procedure. I’m normally pretty good on restarts, but I was terrible.”

McLaughlin’s second place finish is his third podium of 2023, his second of the past 3 races. Palou’s third place run is his eighth of the year, which is three more than the next closest driver with 5 (Newgarden, O’Ward).

Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon rounded out the top 5– the last time Dixon failed to finish higher than 8th was at Long Beach in April, where he crashed out. That race remains his only DNF and only finish outside of the top 10 all season.  

Palou salvaging a podium from going off-strategy extended his points lead by 4 more points over Josef Newgarden. The gap is up to 86 points with 4 races remaining. 

Palou didn’t hint towards letting off despite the big lead in the standings. 

“Until they give us the trophy… I think Josef can win the last four races,” Palou said post race. “Why not? Everybody can do it. We can do it, as well. Yeah, on this championship, on this series, unfortunately I don’t think you can just take it easy, especially now with all the work we did.”

Behind Newgarden is Scott Dixon who, despite having only two podiums in 2023, still remains an outside championship threat. Scott McLaughlin’s podium gains him another spot in the points and he now sits in fourth. Marcus Ericsson, perhaps taking a page out of teammate Dixon’s notebook, remains in the conversation in fifth amidst another consistent season.

IndyCar is right back in action next week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in a doubleheader weekend with the NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series. The IndyCar race will go green at 2 PM EST on Saturday, August 12th on the USA Network. 

Ethan Miller
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