Kirkwood enters Monterey with the final race as a rookie and the last one with Foyt, his thoughts

Kyle Kirkwood’s debut season in the NTT INDYCAR Series will come to an end in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). The highly anticipated rookie currently sits 24th in the standings with one race remaining. While it’s not been the year that he’s like to have had, it’s definitely been one of learning the challenges of the most competitive racing series in the world.

“I think I could write a novel on what I learned, there is so much,” Kirkwood said via a team pre race release this week. “The most crucial thing I learned was strategies. It’s something that’s all new to me coming from sprint (length) racing.”

That’s a common theme among Indy Lights graduates when moving up to an INDYCAR seat. Those races are really run start to finish without any pit stops. INDYCAR races are run with multiple pit stops during an event.

Kirkwood was a very successful driver when graduating up through those same ranks. No one has won as many Road to Indy races (31) than Kirkwood. He also won a championship in all three ladders (USF 2000, Indy Pro 2000, Indy Lights) and did so in consecutive seasons. His 10 wins in Indy Lights last year tied Greg Moore for a series record.

So you can be assured that in coming up with all that success to have just 1 top 10 finish and 5 laps led would be a wake up call. However, the 23-year old has kept a smile in his face each race weekend.

“I’m not sure, I’ve always found things work out better if you’re positive about it,” Kirkwood noted. “Whether it’s the team or yourself, being negative always hurts and at the end of the day we are racing INDYCAR for our livings, what’s cooler than that?”

Kyle Kirkwood this past season at Mid-Ohio. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Kirkwood has had some nice moments during the season though. Long Beach was a high point. So was Texas and Nashville before crashing in both.

“Long Beach was great, it was a bounce back from our incident at Texas and really set the tone for the rest of the year,” he notes.”

As far as if he could have a race weekend back. A do over per se? He shockingly says it wouldn’t be one of those races.

“I think the expected answer is Nashville but for me that was a great weekend and we were caught out from some other’s mistake. For me it is the Indy 500. I thought we were on for a top-10 finish there and we lost too much in the final stop. With what I know now, I think we would go back and have a much better race as a whole.”

Kirkwood says overall that nothing really surprised him too much and that his lack of experience was never a hinderance. If anything, he says he was surprised on how similar INDYCAR was to other forms of motorsports and that the experience that was limited was on what to do to develop the car as the weekend goes on.

“The most challenging aspect of this year was trying to develop the car with little to no experience with the Indy car on certain tracks,” said Kirkwood. “I had basically no reference on what a car should feel like on some of these tracks, I just go off of what I’ve known is right. There were plenty of times throughout the season that we were on the back foot due to this and with teams, tracks and drivers ever evolving, it’s really hard to keep up.”

Now though comes his last race. Not only his last race of the season, but with AJ Foyt Racing too. He’s skeptical on how this weekend will look because Laguna Seca, despite some RTI success, hasn’t been a favorite of his.

“Although I don’t necessarily rank Laguna near the top of my list of favorite tracks, it was actually the track I performed by far the best at last year and the only track I perfectly swept,” he says. “Laguna has tons of character and is definitely a very flowy track, which I tend to be best at tracks with a rhythm type of flow. Although it’s a very fun track to drive, it doesn’t promote much passing at all under similar conditions between competitors. So, that means qualifying, strategy and pit stops are going to be the primary factors at this event.”

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