Rinus VeeKay

One of the numbers associated with Rinus VeeKay’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES career reaches a milestone this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, site of the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix. VeeKay hopes another number ascends with it.

VeeKay will be competing in his 50th series event, putting him roughly in the middle of the field in terms of participation longevity. It seems like only yesterday that the Dutch driver made his debut with Ed Carpenter Racing.

“It’s actually crazy,” VeeKay said. “Beginning of this year I was looking, and I’m longer in INDYCAR now than I’ve spent to get to INDYCAR. I still feel like a rookie, actually.”

VeeKay made his U.S. debut in USF2000 in 2017, winning the Pro Mazda championship the next season. In 2019, he dueled Oliver Askew in INDY NXT by Firestone, winning six races to finish second to Askew in series points. Ed Carpenter signed VeeKay to an INDYCAR SERIES ride for 2020.

VeeKay’s mark on this level came quickly, with three top-five finishes, an NTT P1 Award for being the top qualifier of a fall road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the series’ Rookie of the Year Award. In 2021, he won his first series race on the same IMS circuit, besting a former Formula One driver – Romain Grosjean – by nearly five seconds in the GMR Grand Prix.

Quality results haven’t come as freely since, particularly this season. VeeKay ranks 22nd after three races, but an opportunity to turn his fortunes around begins with this weekend’s event.

The next three races on the schedule are VeeKay’s favorite three tracks: Barber Motorsports Park, the IMS road course and the IMS oval. He has won poles at each of the first two and has qualified on the front row for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge each of the past two years.

Last year at Barber, VeeKay jumped from the pole to lead 57 of the first 60 laps. He might have driven all the way to Victory Lane had he not forgotten to use the push-to-pass system on his out lap from the second pit stop, a miscue that allowed Alex Palou to overtake him. Palou eventually lost the lead to Pato O’Ward, relegating VeeKay to third.

But the confidence gained from that race weekend, along with the upcoming month in Indianapolis, has VeeKay eager to make a season-defining move.

“I think we have all the cards on the table to do better, to get back to last year’s results; we just have been a bit unlucky,” said the driver of the No. 21 Bitnile.com Chevrolet. “I think Barber, (the) Indy road course, (the) Indy 500 are those places where I can climb back up and get back to where we belong.”

VeeKay has finished 12th in the standings each of the past two seasons, and that includes missing the Road America race in 2021 after breaking his collarbone in a cycling accident.

“I think we’re going to be really quick this weekend,” VeeKay said. “I’ve liked Barber since the beginning, (and) we’ve been fast there with our car all the time. I expect we’re going to have a good race.

“Hopefully again (we) make it to the Fast Six – hopefully (win the) pole – and pick up where we left last year in Barber.”

VeeKay also led a lap in the 2021 race at the track.

The Dutchman didn’t have the quickest time in last week’s oval test at IMS – he was 24th among 33 drivers – but teammate Conor Daly was second, and both ECR drivers have led laps in the race each of the past two years. VeeKay and Daly combined to lead 72 of the 200 laps in 2021.

VeeKay has started fourth, third and third in his three “500s,” and he finished eighth in ’21.

“I’m very confident,” he said of next month’s race. “Indy has always been a very good track for us. We’ve always been very fast.”

Keep in mind that VeeKay, at 22, is still the series’ fourth-youngest youngest driver behind Christian Lundgaard, David Malukas and rookie Sting Ray Robb. He might be on the eve of his 50th series start – that ranks 15th among this year’s full-time driver field – but his career arc still has room to grow.

“I’m pretty high in development now – I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I compare myself to a few years ago, my first few races where I was a young guy. In the team we call it ‘the wild boar’ where (I was) so, so (aggressive) all the time. (But) you have to finish (races), too.

“I think I’m more responsible now, a more responsible driver. Also, I have so much more experience by making those mistakes as a wild boar.”

Action at Barber Motorsports Park begins with Friday’s practice at 3:40 p.m. ET. There is a practice at noon ET Saturday, followed by NTT P1 Award qualifying at 3 p.m. ET. Those sessions will be available on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Sunday’s fourth race of the season is at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE and the INDYCAR Radio Network.