Kyle Kirkwood rebounded from a disastrous start to capture a sixth-place finish in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on June 4.
The initial start was waved off due to the field not being in a tight formation, delaying the green flag until Lap 2 of 100. Moments later, Kirkwood, who started 12th, was entering Turn 3 when he was hit from behind by the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet of Callum Ilott. The contact was severe enough to destroy the entire rear wing of Kirkwood’s No. 27 AutoNation Honda, while Ilott became the first retirement from the race.
The yellow flag came out, allowing Kirkwood a chance to get a new rear wing courtesy of his Andretti Autosport crew on Lap 3 without losing a lap. Additionally, he returned to pit road the following lap to swap the softer alternate (green sidewall) Firestone tires for a set of the primary (black sidewall) compound.
The rally to march forward began on the ensuing restart on Lap 7.
By Lap 33, Kirkwood had broken into the top 10 briefly, albeit with the aid of a cycle of pit stops for the field. After an additional pit stop of his own, on Lap 37, and remaining on the preferred primary tires, he continued to progress and actually found the lead on Lap 69 during another cycle of pit stops.
But this time, with a clear track ahead, he pushed for his quickest lap of the race and pulled the overcut on the competition to break into the top 10 for the remainder of the day. Upon pitting for the final time on Lap 70 and getting equipped with another set of primary tires, he returned to the action seventh before passing teammate Romain Grosjean on Lap 78 en route to securing his second top 10 of the season.
“It was a fantastic comeback for the No. 27 AutoNation Honda and our crew,” Kirkwood said. “We crushed it when it mattered. We were all the way back in 26th after getting hit in an incident that wasn’t our fault. So, we dealt with damage the entire race, but we still had a really fast race car, and fast pit stops. We still had a good strategy and we're still able to pass some cars, which not a lot of people can say that I think out there today. We were one of the fastest cars out there.”
The comeback was even more impressive considering this was an event full of close-quarters, elbows-out driving due to the challenging nature of the 1.7-mile, nine-turn temporary street circuit in downtown Detroit. There were seven cautions on the day, which accounted for 32 laps.
“It was carnage at the end there,” Kirkwood said. “It got to a point where people were way overcharging and some people weren't overcharging, and it was just three-wide. Some people were giving up, and some people weren't.
“I was one of the ones I was just giving up because I was like, ‘There's no way this is going to end in a wreck somehow, some way.’ I don't know how it didn't in the front. I was nearly spun all the way around in Turn 3 on the last lap.”
Aggression increased later in the race because staying on the racing line was at a premium due to the growing amount of rubber buildup – “marbles” – just off the line. Just half a car width off the preferred line hurt lap times as the handling of the car deteriorated considerably.
Sitting on the pit wall after the race, Kirkwood took a deep breath and looked over at his battered machine, with the front wing and sidepods blackened by rubber and visible damage to the underwing. The result was his third career top 10 in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and first since winning the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in April, his first career victory.
“That's my second-best INDYCAR SERIES finish, so it's not bad,” Kirkwood said. “We'll take it. It's a good rebound. Rebound from last weekend. Rebound from qualifying. We qualified 12th and finished sixth and a rebound from the incident that we got caught up in, or I got driven through the back of in the beginning of the race. We should be very happy.”