Indy 500 Hopeful Kyle Kirkwood 'Striving for Greatness' after First IndyCar Win
The past year has been a whirlwind for second-year NTT IndyCar Series driver Kyle Kirkwood.
Kirkwood put himself on the NTT IndyCar Series map in a big way with his first career win at Long Beach on April 16.
In 2023, Kirkwood is flipping the script, and he comes into the Indianapolis 500 sitting 10th in the season standings and with a car he feels can run with the leaders.
Kyle Kirkwood likes to talk about attending his first IndyCar race when he was just nine years ago.
Some guy named Scott Dixon won it.
Now, some 15 years later, the 24-year-old Kirkwood will be lining up his No. 27 AutoNation Honda for Andretti Autosport on the outside of Row 5—three rows behind Dixon—for the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28.
The past year has been a whirlwind for Kirkwood, for sure. This past offseason he moved from A.J. Foyt Racing to Andretti Autosport, where he replaced Andretti veteran Alexander Rossi. Then, Kirkwood wasted little time and put himself on the NTT IndyCar Series map in a big way with his first career win at Long Beach on April 16 in just his third race with his new team.
That win, coupled with the might of the Andretti organization behind him, has the Jupiter, Florida, native feeling good going into this year's 500. Kirkwood will be making his second Indy 500 start after finishing a solid 17th and on the lead lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a year ago.
"A lot of people will tell you you're you're only as good as your last race, and the last race (on the Indy Road Course on May 13) we finished 14th," Kirkwood told Autoweek. "So right now we're still striving for greatness, even though we've gotten that win. We have to continue to do it because if we don't, there's other guys that will.
"It's still full focus, full steam ahead. But it is a cool thing to be able to be part of not a massive group of drivers who are able to say, 'Hey, I won an IndyCar race.' It's something I'm going to cherish, and I know I'll be able to cherish that for the rest of my life."
Kirkwood came into the IndyCar series in 2022 on the heels of one of the more dominant Indy NXT (previously Indy Lights) seasons on record, having won 10 of 20 races en route to the 2021 championship. The season earned him a ride with A.J. Foyt Racing that produced just one top-10 finish—a 10th at Long Beach—and a modest 24th place finish in the final season standings.
In 2023, Kirkwood is flipping the script, and he comes into the Indianapolis 500 sitting 10th in the season standings and with a car he feels can run with the leaders on the biggest stage. In a strange twist, he's tied in season points with Rossi, the driver he replaced who is now with Arrow McLaren.
"Last year was obviously not the best of years, but I knew we were probably a little bit short on equipment (at Foyt)," Kirkwood said. "So I knew as soon as we got in with Andretti Autosport that a win would be an attainable goal. I don't know if it was a surprise that it came so quickly, because it was only three races into my debut with Andretti Autosport. Plus, it was the first win of the year for a team with a couple of very, very veteran drivers.
"So it was enjoyable, and I was glad that it came quickly because then it kind of set the mood for the rest of the season, no doubt."
That's not to say that the year with Foyt was a lost season. In fact, maybe wading into the IndyCar pool without immediate expectations was a bonus.
"There was so much to learn in IndyCar that I didn't already know, and it having that season under my belt with AJ Foyt Racing was a massive gain for me," Kirkwood said. "I've said it multiple times that I feel like if circumstances were different, and I had jumped straight in with Andretti Autosport, I probably would have beaten up on myself more and people would have would have expected higher things of me.
"Of course, things could have been different and I could have done really well, but I think I'm a much more well-rounded driver now than I've had a year under my belt. So I'm glad and I'm super thankful and blessed with the way that it's all panned out now."
So, Kyle, are you the next great American IndyCar champion in the making?
"It is humbling to read stuff like that," he said. "You know, I always forget that there's not that many Americans in the series. And it's, it's cool to have that that following and people that think of me so highly. Of course, for me, when I'm into a racing season, I'm just fully focused on doing well and I don't want to focus on what other people have to say about me, whether it's good or bad.
"At the end of the day, none of that controls what we're actually doing on track. But at the same time, it is cool that people think so highly of me."