Kyle Kirkwood didn’t make a mistake earlier this month in winning his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race from the pole, but he made one Saturday that might have cost him a second win.
Barber Motorsports Park, the site of the season’s fourth race, has been ruled by INDYCAR SERIES drivers starting in the first two rows, with five of the past six winners rolling off from the first three positions. Kirkwood will start Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock; 2:30 p.m., INDYCAR Radio Network) on the outside of Row 6 – from the 12th position – after spinning in Round 2 of qualifying.
Kirkwood said his veteran strategist, Bryan Herta, alerted that Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay was charging from behind in the No. 21 Bitnile.com Chevrolet, and Kirkwood overreacted.
“I saw (VeeKay) in my rear-view mirror and felt the need to push to make sure I didn’t impede on him because that will cost you the session right there,” Kirkwood said. “I ended up spinning, taking (an aerodynamic piece) off of our car which hurt our downforce, destroyed our session.”
Kirkwood blamed himself, calling it “just a dumb mistake.”
With Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean winning the NTT P1 Award in the No. 28 DHL Honda, Kirkwood said he should have earned a top-six starting position. Either way, his group made a big rebound from earlier practice sessions; they were 22nd in Friday’s single practice.
“To be in the hunt to try to go for a pole again, that was our feeling, and it (was) pretty cool,” Kirkwood said. “Huge rebound, and we’re solid on the primary (tires) as that showed in qualifying.”
Firestone’s black-sidewalled primary tires are expected to be the preferred option in the 90-lap race on the natural terrain road course. But if history is a guide, Kirkwood will need some breaks to move significantly up in the running order.
In the 12 series races held here since 2010, the winner has come from the first two rows nine times. The exceptions: Will Power (ninth in 2012) and Josef Newgarden (fifth in 2015, seventh in 2017).
Lundgaard: Making Progress
Last year’s INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year Christian Lundgaard scored the best starting position of the season for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, earning the sixth spot.
Lundgaard’s best result in qualifying this season had been ninth. The best starting spot by a teammate is 15th (Jack Harvey at Long Beach).
“I told (the crew) just before we went out for the Fast Six, what’s the worst that can happen -- we’re going to be sixth,” said Lundgaard, who sees a positive in starting in that position. “We finished on the podium (in last year’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course) starting from sixth, so it’s not too bad of a place to be.”
Lundgaard, who finished a career-best second in that IMS road race, said his goal for this race is “to make it a little further forward.” His best finish this year is ninth in St. Petersburg.
“I think the progression we made for this week has been a big step,” the driver of the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda said. “At least on my car, we’ve been competitive all weekend. We need to carry that into the race – that’s where we score the most points. So far, we have a pretty decent package.”
Fellow RLL drivers Graham Rahal and Harvey will start 19th and 24th, respectively, in the No. 15 One Cure Honda and No. 30 Amada Honda.
Juncos Hollinger: English Only
In an effort to improve communication throughout the team fielding cars for an Englishman and a Spanish-speaking Argentine who is only months into being introduced to English, Juncos Hollinger Racing is only speaking in English this weekend.
That consistent communication could be tied to the trouble the two-car team had at Long Beach when it released Callum Ilott (No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) into the path of field-leading rookie Agustin Canapino (No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) on a midrace restart. Canapino seemed to be slowed by the presence of Ilott and lost positions shortly thereafter to drivers with fresher tires.
However, the Argentine doesn’t want too much English on his radio. In fact, he said, with a smile, that he has asked his team owner, Ricardo Juncos, who calls his strategy, to “try to stay quiet” as much as possible.
Ilott and Canapino will start 15th and 22nd, respectively, in Sunday’s 27-car field.
Pagenaud: ‘Very Small Margin’
Simon Pagenaud knows the difference between becoming an INDYCAR SERIES champion and falling short, and he said the separation is that thin throughout the grid.
“It’s such a small margin, right?” he said. “The cars work in a very, very small window. That’s why you see some guys winning one week, (finishing) 15th the next weekend.
“You’re talking about INDYCAR. Talking very French here, you suck when you’re one-tenth (of a second) off (the pace), OK? Any other series in the world, you don’t suck when you’re one-tenth off. We work in a very, very small margin.”
Pagenaud will start Sunday’s race from the 16th position in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda.
Armstrong: ‘Anything’s Possible’
Rookie Marcus Armstrong (No. 11 The American Legion Honda) was penalized for interference in qualifying with VeeKay, losing his fastest two laps of the timed session.
Armstrong argued both drivers were on their warmup laps when they came close together in Turn 8. Armstrong will start 26th but is undeterred for Sunday’s race amid the various strategy options available.
“From what I’ve seen so far in INDYCAR, anything’s possible in the race,” he said. “It’s definitely not over, but we should be starting higher up.”
VeeKay Admits Aggression
VeeKay also was involved in a qualifying-round dustup with reigning Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. The two went back and forth on track, narrowly missing each other. VeeKay later conceded he violated a gentleman’s agreement not to pass another driver on the out lap.
“I did a little, but am I a gentleman?” he said. “I’m coming from the back (in the second round); I’m the last one in line. I just wanted to get a good gap on the field. I did it last year and got a pole, so why not pass everyone on the out lap?
“Will got a little heated, but that’s Will – that’s why he’s got a red car, right? It wasn’t meant to (irritate) anyone. I had to do something to get my place on the track.”
VeeKay will start ninth. Power will roll off 11th.
Veach Back at Track
Zach Veach, who drove in 47 INDYCAR SERIES races from 2017 through 2020, is on hand this weekend through his association with Arrow McLaren. Veach has been doing simulator work in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the team that fields three cars in this series.
According to NBC, Veach was asked to attend this weekend’s event in case Pato O’Ward’s bout with food poisoning lingered. It did not, so Veach is spotting for Felix Rosenqvist (No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet).
Speaking of Arrow McLaren, it is one of the few INDYCAR SERIES teams that did not test at Barber Motorsports Park in preparation for this event. O’Ward, who won last year’s race, will start third in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Rosenqvist will start eighth, Alexander Rossi (No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) 10th.
Odds and Ends
- This is setting up to be another difficult weekend for Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda). He will start 14th. His previous three INDYCAR SERIES races here have ended with results of 24th, 22nd and 10th.
- NBC reported that cars driven by Lundgaard and Alex Palou (No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants) will have new engines for Sunday’s race. Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) changed following the contact with O’Ward in the series’ most-recent race, at Long Beach on April 9, and Grosjean changed between Friday’s practice and Saturday’s action.
- O’Ward is one of the many drivers who have had trouble with Turn 8 through the weekend. O’Ward has bounced off the left side of the track on consecutive days. Friday’s excursion was particularly adventurous, with his car getting all four wheels off the ground.
- Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) spun in Saturday’s pre-qualifying practice in the same position exiting Turn 8a as he did in last year’s race. This time the Meyer Shank Racing machine did not make barrier contact.
- Christian Rasmussen of HMD Motorsports won the pole for Sunday’s second race of the INDY NXT by Firestone season as 13 of the 18 drivers qualified under the track record (1 minutes, 11.5149 seconds). Rasmussen’s lap was 1:10.737. The pole was the second in the series for Rasmussen, who will go for his third series victory over the past two seasons. Coverage of the 12:55 p.m. ET race will be on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.