Kyle Kirkwood is bringing experience and renewed expectations to his sophomore NTT INDYCAR SERIES season as the driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda for 2023.
A series rookie last year, the native of Jupiter, Florida delivered a handful of eye-catching performances in the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.
In just the second race of his career, Kirkwood charged from 23rd on the grid at Texas Motor Speedway to lead his first-ever laps in North America’s premier open-wheel championship. While that effort ended early due to contact after 113 of 248 laps, Kirkwood rebounded the following race to earn a career-best 10th-place finish in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Additionally, a late pit stop miscue ended a potential top-10 finish and relegated him to 17th – the second-highest scored rookie – in the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
Looking back, Kirkwood shared the biggest struggle in the jump from 2021 INDY NXT by Firestone champion to first-year driver in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“There’s a ton and a lot of it is understanding the race strategy,” the 24-year-old Kirkwood said. “That was the most difficult thing for me to start to understand; understanding where you’re at, who you’re actually racing (against).”
Kirkwood admitted the learning curve began right away at the season-opening round on the Streets of St. Petersburg, specifically when the field was split in half over different strategies.
“I just had no idea who I was actually racing,” he said. “There were cars around me that were in contention for position and some of them weren’t and trying to understand the strategies and how they were going to play out (was difficult). Being able to almost call strategy from my end is something that I feel like I’ve gotten better at as the season went on knowing a lot of times you’re throwing out a shot into the dark, right? And you have to kind of predict what the track is going to do.
“Obviously, it’s calculated but sometimes it changes on the fly and as a driver you need to understand that. I feel like as the season has gone on, I’ve progressed a lot in that sense, and I’ll be able to carry that into this year.”
Kirkwood comes into this year with 17 series races under his belt and joins an organization that visited victory lane twice in 2022. In turn, it sets up the possibility of different expectations than what Kirkwood experienced at AJ Foyt Racing.
“For me, coming up, literally, from the start of my racing career, I’ve always had expectations to go out and try to win races,” Kirkwood said. “I feel like having Andretti (Autosport) by my side and being with them, that gives me an opportunity every single weekend that we go on track. And that was honestly something that was one of the most difficult things; if you were to ask me what was the most difficult thing I encountered this (last) year, it was that. It was the fact that I would go out on track, and we would be fighting for top 10s and whatnot.
“I’m still in the mentality that I want to go and win. People would look and, ‘Oh, he’s in sixth or seventh right now, he’s doing an amazing job.’ But all I want is more. I’m always never satisfied until (I) get wins. That was one of the most difficult to me to understand because if you look back through my car career and through my karting and stuff, I’ve probably won close to 40 percent of races per season. So, it was a big change for me.”