NO LIMITS, Texas (March 20, 2022)–The hometown team had a tough time in the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon but they left the track counting their positives.
Rookie Kyle Kirkwood who hadn’t raced on a superspeedway before today proved to be a quick study as he carved through the field from his 23rd starting spot into the top 10 in 25 laps. He was one of the few drivers to use the second lane on the track.
By lap 64, Kirkwood and his veteran teammate J.R. Hildebrand, who started 25th in the No. 11 ROKiT Chevy, were running one-two but that was due to being off strategy from the leaders.
Kirkwood pitted for a second time on lap 68 and despite having a smooth stop, he dropped to 17th but worked his way back up to 14th before the lap 99 caution for the contact between Takuma Sato and Devlin DeFrancesco which sent Sato into the grey area in Turn 2.
Pitting on lap 103, Kirkwood slid long into his pit — he’d had a lot of build-up of “rubber marbles” on his tires–and by the time the crew adjusted, Kirkwood lost a couple spots. He rejoined the race behind DeFrancesco and on the restart, Kirkwood tried to implement a passing strategy that worked earlier in the race.
Taking the outer lane, Kirkwood was poised to make a pass after the restart on lap 113. However, DeFrancesco pushed up and Kirkwood was sent to the grey area in turn 4 and spun and pancaked the wall with the left side.
“Unfortunately, we ended our race a bit too early,” Kirkwood said afterwards. “Making some passes
happen, we came through the field at one point from the mid-20s up to the top 10, we were actually leading for a few laps off strategy so super happy with the team, the No. 14 car was just amazing. Unfortunately, we got caught out by some of the sealer at the top of the track. I was racing hard with Devlin on a restart, and I just ran out of track because when you get into that PJ1, the car just sets sailing and that really caught us out today. So super unfortunate but super happy with our performance. Everyone knew we were here, we were contenders at this race and we’ll just carry that momentum – not from us crashing–but the momentum from how well our pace was into Long Beach.”
Hildebrand, who was steadily making his way through the field and was running 11th for a good part of the race, dropped off the pace in the closing laps due to an issue with the front wing which caused him to lose downforce and he ended the day in 14th.
“It was just kind of a fight back day for us,” said the 34-year-old Californian. “We had some issues
yesterday, didn’t qualify well, but figured out what we were battling with the car after the final practice session; there was a little bit of an inconsistency with the setups with the way the car was put together. So going into today, in some ways, it felt a little bit like first practice all over again. So we knew what we’d had to work with but we hadn’t really made any progress with the car through the practice sessions yesterday. Got out there today and the car felt pretty good, it felt racy, we were able to make it go really long on fuel and the car was underneath me for all of this. Beyond that we were trying to be opportunistic, make moves where we could and outlast guys. That was really the name of the game at the end of the day. We managed to do that and came away with a pretty solid finish given where we started, and onto the next one.”
For Hildebrand that will be the Indianapolis 500 as Tatiana Calderón will be back in the cockpit for the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Dalton Kellett, who had the best qualifying run of his teammates yesterday, had the most struggles with his car today after starting 22nd. Each car moved up a spot on the starting grid because Santino Ferrucci replaced Jack Harvey who crashed heavily yesterday in practice. He did not pass the concussion protocol to be cleared to drive today.
Kellett, who made seven pit stops, was philosophical and found some positives from what had to be a
long day in the office. He finished 17th in the K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet.
“Overall, our pace wasn’t really where we needed it to be in qualifying,” said Kellett. “I think we made
improvements from last year, the car was definitely better in race trim than we were last year, so there are positives to take there. Not the weekend we were hoping for coming out of here but we got a lot of good data, we did try some stuff that will be beneficial to us the rest of the season. Obviously, it was a shame for the way things ended for the 14 car for Kyle and ROKiT, no one ever wants to see a teammate taken out. I hope he’s feeling alright after that hit. We’ll just have to take the lessons from this weekend and try to find a bit more pace in qualifying because track position is so important.”
Scott McLaughlin had dominated the race, leading 186 laps of the 248-lapper, only to lose out to his teammate Josef Newgarden as they drag-raced to the checkered when McLaughlin got caught in traffic. Rounding out the top-five were Marcus Ericsson, Will Power and Scott Dixon.
The team will test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course on March 31. The next race will be the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach which will be broadcast on NBC on Sunday, April 10.