INDIANAPOLIS (May 29, 2022)–The Greatest Spectacle in Racing returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon under sunny skies for the first time since Roger Penske took ownership of the Brickyard. Packed grandstands gave the track the color it had been lacking since the pandemic hit in 2020. It was a just reward for the man who poured over $30 million into the historic facility’s makeover.
The 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 was held before a near capacity crowd at the Brickyard.
Making lemonade out of lemons. That’s what J.R. Hildebrand and his Home For Our Troops team did after not one, but two untimely cautions sent the No. 11 Chevy to the rear of the field after his second and third pit stops. However fast pit stops and strategy calls helped Hildebrand claw his way back through the field to a 12th place finish.
“It was an eventful day,” said Hildebrand, who started 17th. “Huge kudos to the guys in the pits, we had really great stops all day, which definitely helped. We went for an undercutting strategy early that carried some risk like getting caught out by a yellow. We ended up succumbing to that risk. I think it could have played out a little bit differently for us if we’d have just tweaked our perspective on it a little bit at the time. At the halfway point it was looking a little grim in terms of where we were going to be as it was definitely hard to pass. The car was fast when we could get out in clean air. We had some speed but it just was hard to get by cars even if I was running full rich and some guys were fuel saving, with the way conditions were today. It was just really tricky to pass so managed to make lemonade out of lemons for the second half of the race.
The HFOTUSA.org crew at work during the Indy 500.
“I had some good restarts so picked off some guys just on restarts,” Hildebrand continued. “Grabbed an on-track pass or two over the course of the pit cycles or when I was on new tires in the pitstop sequences. I definitely felt like we were able to define those parts of the race as a strength and take advantage of it which definitely felt good. After the final restart, just kind of hanging on to it there at the end. I didn’t really have much for the guys that were right in front of me. We were able to hold off some cars that were on fresher tires — the 2 car [Josef Newgarden] comes to mind for sure. They were a little more well equipped for that sprint to the end than we were so, all in all, I think we squeezed a lot out of it today given how the day started — the guys made some good adjustments. And we brought it home in one piece.”
Kyle Kirkwood started 28th in the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet and was running a solid 14th and appeared to be headed for top finishing rookie honors but an error on the penultimate pit stop proved costly as Kirkwood dropped to 24th. However, in a few short laps he worked back to 20th and then 17th when the checkered flew.
Kirkwood was smiling during pre-race with Didier Francesia.
“We had an awesome race,” said the 23-year-old Floridian. “I’m ecstatic. I got out of the car, all smiles ear to ear. We fought forward, we gained positions on strategy. I passed some people, made some really good restarts and went from 28th up into almost fighting for a top-10. And then we had a little bit of a hiccup on a pitstop, and around here that’s pretty detrimental. So that was the only mistake we made all day and it was very minor but it cost us a few positions and we ended up 17th. I actually fought for the Rookie of the Year Award. Going down into Turn 1, I was by David Malukas. And Sage Karem was stopped at the bottom of Turn 1 and I had to avoid him and next thing he’s in the wall. I had to do some evasive reaction to get by him and that’s what let David back by me so that was unfortunate. But we still fought for it. We fought all day, made it to 500 miles and came out clean, so I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
Starting 29th, Dalton Kellett had a long day in his cockpit as the team tried to make adjustments to the car throughout the 200-lap race but they didn’t seem to yield the results he was looking for.
“I brought the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevy home,” the young Canadian said. “We had a really hard time running in traffic. On the first stop, we added a wicker to the rear wing trying to add some downforce and we only had that one opportunity to do that. If we’d known, we would have added the bigger one, realistically I think we were a bit shy there. It was pretty hard to run in traffic and then on our own mechanically. I think we just had some understeer built into the car on the exit and we kept trying to tag it with the front wing. It gets to a point where you’re going to tip over the entry and we definitely got there and it got pretty loose on turnout. And so it was a long day. There were lots of opportunities to knock the wall down and we came home with all four corners attached so I’m sure the crew’s happy about that. I’m certainly happy about it. There’s some good lessons learned I think from that experience to carry into the next ovals. We’re back at Detroit this weekend, which will be really fun. I like that track a lot. Street circuits seem to be our forte so that should be fun.”
Marcus Ericsson won the Indy 500 to become just the second Swede to win the 500 at the Brickyard, the first being Kenny Brack who won in 1999 driving for Foyt. Second through fifth today were Pato O’Ward, Tony Kanaan, Felix Rosenqvist (another Swedish driver in the race), and Alex Rossi.
Hildebrand and Foyt chat after the race.
Team President Larry Foyt summed up the day saying, “Well it wasn’t the day we were looking for overall but it wasn’t a terrible day. We knew from where we were starting there were going to be a lot of challenges and it was just that way, the race was very tough. You could see that everybody was very close in speeds and it made the passing pretty difficult. J.R. ended up almost getting into the top-10 with us. We took some strategy gambles and it paid off the first stop, but then the yellow came out at the wrong time on the second one and we had to start over–went all the way to the back. We just kept sticking with that strategy and it ended up paying off and helping us get up to 12th. So that car did a great job and had great stops all day.
“I think Kyle learned a lot in his first Indy 500,” Foyt added. “He really got going there probably two thirds into the race. Looked like he had a great restart and was passing cars and doing a great job. We had a problem on the final stop. It doesn’t take much and he said he slid just a tick long in the pits and it just made the stop a little longer. You lose so much track position when cars are going 220 miles an hour so that was a bummer. But still a good day, I knew he learned a lot.
“Unfortunately, Dalton didn’t like his car — he had his hands full all day and that was too bad,” Foyt revealed. “Probably missed it a little bit with the car and he just had a long day, but he brought it home and that’s all you can do. You’re going to have days like that and he did a good job to get it to the finish because some guys didn’t. So we got a lot of information. We’ll learn a lot from this and come back better next year.”
The NTT INDYCAR Series is taking it to the streets next week with the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on Sunday, June 5 at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. It will be broadcast on NBC starting at 3 p.m. ET.