By David Morgan, Associate Editor
When it’s your day, it’s your day.
The start of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season didn’t start the way Kyle Kirkwood and Andretti Autosport would have liked following two tumultuous races at St. Petersburg and Texas, but they can put all that behind them now as Kirkwood was victorious in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach – his first career IndyCar win.
Kirkwood streaked to his first career IndyCar pole on Saturday ahead of Marcus Ericsson and his Andretti teammate Romain Grosjean and that momentum rolled right into race day for the 24-year-old native of Jupiter, Florida.
From the drop of the green flag, it was clear that the driver of the No. 27 Honda would be a threat as he led the opening stanza of the race and held onto the point until the yellow flag flew for an incident involving Scott Dixon and Pato O’Ward on lap 20.
Defending Long Beach winner Josef Newgarden would take over the race lead in the restart scrum that followed with Kirkwood settling into a Top 5 run. Newgarden peeled off to pit road on lap 52 to start the final green flag pit stop cycle, handing the lead back to Kirkwood.
Alex Palou took over the lead for a two-lap stint when Kirkwood made his final stop on lap 54, with Kirkwood cycling back to the top of the leaderboard when Palou ducked off for his final pit stop.
From there on out, it was Kirkwood’s race to lose as he held off Grosjean and Ericsson down the stretch to bank the victory.
“I’ve been pretty non-stop since I got out of the car. I haven’t really had a moment to think,” Kirkwood said of his mindset since capturing the checkered flag.
“Ultimately I’ve just had a moment of calmness. It’s kind of shook the monkey off my back a little bit because we had a spell of bad luck there. All of it was out of our control.
“At St. Pete we were extremely fast, running in sixth. We got caught up in someone else’s incident. Texas we weren’t really that fast, but we got the car in a really good window, ultimately we weren’t able to finish the race from a mechanical, which was super unfortunate. We had the pace.
“This weekend we had the pace and were able to execute. I think that was possible at the past two events. Hopefully this is now just creating some momentum that will carry through the rest of the season.”
Ericsson’s third-place result moved him to the points lead, with the victory boosting Kirkwood from 20th in points to start the day to fifth leaving Long Beach.
Colton Herta finished the race in fourth place to give Andretti three of the top-four finishers, with Palou rounding out the top-five.
“Unbelievable. We needed this bad,” Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti said. “The way we started off the year with really fast cars, not getting any results. It’s nice to get the results we did. 1-2-4 is not a bad day.
“This is going to really help especially rolling into Indy in a few races. This always puts an extra bounce in everybody’s step. Yeah, we’re very excited about the rest of the year.”
The remainder of the top-10 went to Felix Rosenqvist, Will Power, and rookie Marcus Armstrong. Newgarden faded to ninth at the finish as he was in maximum fuel save mode over the final stint of the race. Scott McLaughlin finished the race in 10th place.
“You know what they say, a bad day in L.A. is better than a good day anywhere else,” said Newgarden. “I’m sad for my team honestly. We had a phenomenal race car – really great. We were chipping away at it. It’s been tough to put the laps together all the way up through qualifying and I felt like that was kind of our weakness was getting everything together.
“We had good potential just couldn’t realize it and, in the race, we really had it together. That car was absolutely phenomenal. Team Chevy did a great job for us. The whole No. 2 car did amazing. Fate didn’t really go our way in the beginning for our strategy. The yellow did not help us one bit. If there was no yellow in the beginning and we would have gone green a bit longer, I think we would have been real pretty.
“Even with the yellow, we were making the most of it and I still think we had a shot at winning the race, but then something else did us in and just made it pretty brutal.”
It will be a busy two weeks ahead for the IndyCar Series as they head home to Indianapolis for an open test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 20th and 21st before the next race on the schedule at Barber Motorsports Park on April 30.