Today’s question: Whose results in the first two races of the year are the most deceiving?
Curt Cavin: There are a half-dozen drivers who come to mind, but I’ll go with Kyle Kirkwood, who has raced better than his finishes of 18th and 25th suggest. He was among the leaders of the doomed three-stop strategy at St. Petersburg, and he dramatically went around the outside of several talented and experienced oval-track drivers in his superspeedway debut at Texas Motor Speedway. Yes, Kirkwood crashed midway through the Texas race, but he probably would have handled the slick outside lane without incident had he not been in two-wide battle while following a two-wide battle. The disturbed air from the group in front of him likely was the key factor in the No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet getting away from him. Bottom line: Kirkwood is off to an impressive start.
Zach Horrall: I’ve got to say Helio Castroneves here. At St. Petersburg, much like Kirkwood, Castroneves was on the dreaded three-stop strategy that prevented him from having a better finish. He ended the day 14th in the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, but he was fourth of the drivers who pitted three times. Then at Texas, he was involved in a Lap 129 accident while running 10th that was none of his doing when Devlin DeFrancesco took Graham Rahal and Castroneves three-wide entering Turn 3. He finished 23rd. In St. Pete, Castroneves finished one position ahead of his teammate Simon Pagenaud, and at Texas he was running one spot behind the other Meyer Shank Racing car when the incident occurred. Let’s just assume had that wreck not happened, Castroneves would’ve stayed with his teammate – he’d likely be around 10th in points (Pagenaud is ninth) instead of 18th.
Paul Kelly: In what looks like the third act of a very cruel play, Alexander Rossi. After two down seasons in 2020 and 2021, Rossi needed a strong start as much or more than anyone on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES grid. It’s not happening so far. The Looney Tunes-style cartoon anvil continues to drop on Rossi and the No. 27 Andretti Autosport team in various painful ways. Rossi led 10 laps at St. Petersburg, but trouble removing the left front wheel during his final pit stop dropped him to 20th place at the checkered flag. Texas was even rougher. Rossi was eliminated by an electrical problem just 10 laps into the 248-lap race. That 27th-place finish in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda dropped 2016 Indy 500 winner Rossi to 27th in the series standings in a season in which many predicted he would return to his title-contending form of 2019. The results of his first two races are so deceiving it’s almost beyond belief.