Marcus Armstrong

Kyle Kirkwood wasn’t the only young NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver to shine in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Several positions behind Kirkwood, the first-time race winner, and largely out of the camera shot was the drive of series rookie Marcus Armstrong, who continues to impress with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Armstrong backed up his 11th-place INDYCAR SERIES debut in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding with an eighth-place showing Sunday in what was just his second U.S. race. Armstrong did not compete in the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway because his season schedule does not include oval tracks.

“I think it was a great day,” Armstrong said of the 85-lap Long Beach race. “It was a genuine pleasure to drive the Ganassi car as it was very well-balanced from start to finish, especially on the primary tires.

“The performance was there; it was just about finding that clear air.”

In qualifying, the 22-year-old driver from Christchurch, New Zealand, advanced to the second round, earning the No. 12 starting position. His opportunity to move up in the running order came in the Lap 26 fracas in Turn 8 when Pato O’Ward tried to get inside of Kirkwood and Marcus Ericsson. O’Ward spun, slowing Ericsson and Alex Palou, and that allowed Armstrong to pass all three of them in the No. 11 The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Armstrong ran in the top 10 the rest of the way to score his first top-10 finish.

Armstrong’s performance in the two street races has him leading the Rookie of the Year standings despite not competing in the oval race. He leads Agustin Canapino of Juncos Hollinger Racing by one point, 43-42.

Canapino Impressive Again

The Argentine driver in the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet didn’t have the finish he wanted – he ended the race in 25th place – but he led the first three laps of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career due to pit strategy and might have held the position longer if not for the mad scramble on the Lap 26 restart.

Most followers of this series pegged Armstrong as the rookie most likely to have an impact on this season given the historical strength of Chip Ganassi Racing, but very few tabbed Canapino to show this well as the smaller Juncos Hollinger Racing organization expanded to two cars for the first time.

Sting Ray Robb, who drives the No. 51 biohaven Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, finished 18th in Long Beach while Benjamin Pedersen, piloting the No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet, finished 24th. Robb and Pedersen trail Armstrong by 11 and 17 points, respectively, in the rookie standings.

Balance Reigns

Sunday’s race was the third of the INDYCAR SERIES season, and Kirkwood became the third different winner. No one should be surprised by that fact.

Last year produced five different winners in the first six races, with only Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden scoring two early on. In 2021, it was the eighth race before there was a repeat winner (O’Ward). There were nine different winners each of the past two seasons, two off the sport’s all-time record.

Based on history, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Team Penske’s Will Power will reach victory lane this season as they are working streaks of 18 and 16 consecutive seasons, respectively, with at least one race win. Overall, Dixon has 53 career wins, Power 41.

Kirkwood became the first first-time winner since Scott McLaughlin in St. Petersburg to open the 2022 season. Prior to that, Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing won his first career series race in the 2021 GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean looks like the best bet to become the next new race winner. Sunday’s second-place finish was the fourth such result of his three-year career in the series.

With Kirkwood now in the winner’s club, there will be 15 of the 27 drivers at the next race, the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix on Sunday, April 30 at Barber Motorsports Park, who have won an INDYCAR SERIES race.

Another Remarkable Dixon Statistic

Six-time series champion Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) didn’t have the race he wanted, knocked out of contention early in the race due to contact with O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Racing Chevrolet). Officially, Dixon finished last in the 27-car field.

There is so much evidence to describe how terrific Dixon’s career has been with the Ganassi team that is always so well-prepared, and here’s another: Sunday was just the seventh time in 370 career races that he finished last in the order. That’s less than 2 percent of the time. (The 2004 race at the Milwaukee Mile isn’t included because while Dixon participated in the event, he did not start the race due to the team’s challenges associated with the weekend.)

Dixon has only had four last-place finishes in the 18 years since CGR moved away from Toyota, which struggled in its final two years in the series.

Dixon thought O’Ward was to blame for this early exit, and O’Ward, who did not think he was at fault, was not penalized.

“That seemed extremely late,” Dixon told NBC of the Turn 8 passing attempt by O’Ward. “I can understand tire (degradation) and that kind of stuff going on, but I wouldn’t have chosen that. If that’s how the series wants us to race, then I guess it’s all gloves off at this point.”

O’Ward took responsibility for his Lap 26 spin in the same corner that nearly collected Kirkwood and slowed the efforts of Ericsson and Palou.

Next Up: IMS Test

Before the series heads to Barber Motorsports Park, most of the car-and-driver combinations entered for next month’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge will test later this week on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

The two-day test is Thursday and Friday, with the action running from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.

The Turn 2 viewing mounds at IMS will be open for public viewing. The test will be streamed live on Peacock for U.S. residents and internationally on INDYCAR LIVE! The INDYCAR Radio Network also will cover the test from 3-6 p.m. Thursday and from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday.