Coming Back Around on Kirkwood

First impressions mean a lot. I should start trusting them more. About this time last year, I got my first glimpse of Kyle Kirkwood, when he was announced to drive the famous No. 14 for AJ Foyt Enterprises. I was extremely impressed.

Most of you know I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the Indy NXT Series (formerly Indy Lights). It’s just a thing with me. I don’t follow college football recruiting, nor do I follow minor league baseball. I wait until a player or driver makes it into the big leagues before I waste time learning about them. I have just so many brain cells I don’t want to waste the ones I still have on someone that most likely will never make it.

Kyle Kirkwood won the 2021 Indy Lights championship with Andretti Autosport. With no room on the IndyCar team for 2022, Kirkwood went to Foyt. It was then that I started reading up on Kirkwood and seeing what he was all about. I came away with a very favorable impression. He seemed like a very mature and capable young man in the car and out of it.

He said all of the right things his first race weekend with Foyt at St. Petersburg last season. I sat back and watched a pit-side interview with one of the mainstream IndyCar writers, and was further impressed with him. At the time, Kirkwood was 23 years-old, but his demeanor suggested he was a savvy pro in his late thirties. Add that to the fact that he did well in practice and carried into Round Two of qualifying for his very first race – I felt like I was witnessing a star in the making.

But then the 2022 season unfolded. By the time the season concluded at Laguna Seca, I was afraid I had rushed to judgment on Kirkwood. I felt like I had been taken in by his interviewing prowess, and his Indy Lights resume. Even though he was in the Foyt cars, he was making unforced errors.

Long before the season was over his move to Andretti Autosport for 2023 was confirmed – making him an official lame duck at Foyt. Just couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post where I was doubtful about Kirkwood’s abilities to turn things around – even though he had moved to a bigger team with a potentially faster car.

I know it’s foolish to base any perceptions off of an open test, but Kirkwood showed me last week that perhaps my first assumption from a year ago was correct and that my reports of his career demise were greatly exaggerated. In the three sessions he participated in (Sessions 1,3 and 4), Kirkwood was in the Top-Three in every one of them and led the final practice. He missed the second session on Thursday afternoon, due to a clutch being replaced in his car.

What impressed me about that is that everyone was on equal footing at the Thermal Club track. No one had driven on it before in an Indy car, including Kirkwood. To go out and be consistently fast through the two-day test was enough to tell me that I may have been right about him all along.

In a conversation with Nathan Brown at, Kirkwood admitted he was pushing too much. His car was not one of the fastest, but it was still his goal to take it to the front. He relayed how easy it was to take the Andretti Autosport car to the front at Spring Training. He did this in a soft way to not come across as bashing the Foyt team. He’s right – the Andretti cars are generally faster than the Foyt cars.

The point is, I have come full circle in my opinion of Kyle Kirkwood. This time a year ago, I was very high on him and his driving abilities. In the second half of last season, my opinion soured. He was almost always at or near the back of the field. About the only mentions he was getting on television was when he was putting his car into the wall. If they interviewed him, his answers were understandably short and a little snippy.

But count me as one that has been seduced by a driver’s performance in Spring Training. I realize that what went on at the Thermal Club last week has very little to do with what will happen next month at St. Petersburg. But hopping into a different car with a new team can never be easy. To do so and be consistently at or near the front in every session is pretty remarkable.

Once again, I am back on the Kyle Kirkwood bandwagon.

It seems that everyone smiles when they are leaving Spring Training, and that certainly applied to Kyle Kirkwood. Like last year at this time, Kirkwood said all the right things after Spring Training was over. Now the big question remains that I won’t know the answer to for a while – am I being taken in by what I saw from Kirkwood at Spring Training, or was my mind jaded with what I saw from Kirkwood in the Foyt car last summer? St. Petersburg will be a great place to start finding the answer.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Coming Back Around on Kirkwood”

  1. James T Suel Says:

    I think your assessment of Kirkwood is spot on. My concern for him was like that of Sage when they dropped him. You can always slow a driver down , but it’s hard to speed them up. If they judged drivers in the old days as they do now guys like the great Mario Andretti would never have got a chance.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Kirkwood has a lot to prove this season, but it was certainly nice last week to see why so many folks were excited about him to begin with. And, again, his ladder series success is unprecedented. He was champion in 5 different ladder series and won at least half the races in 4 of those 5 championship seasons… and in the one he didn’t (Formula 4, his first championship), he won 9 of 20 races. That gets people’s attention.

    Guys with anything close to his level of success in the ladder don’t always figure it out (see Townsend Bell, Mark Taylor, Alex Lloyd), but they quite often do (see Paul Tracy, Greg Moore, Christiano Da Matta, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden).

  3. I don’t follow the “feeder series” much because they keep getting harder and harder to follow. They used to run at Indy on Carb Day or before the Grand Prix and I enjoyed those races, but I’m not sure any of them run anymore there. I’ve not been to the Grand Prix in a couple years. But I like that someone who has earned a ride gets the opportunity. That is too rare in Indy car these days. I’ll definitely be pulling for him.

  4. Tony Dinelli Says:

    I think he’ll do just fine. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, carries himself well, and now in a much better position than in 2022.

  5. Remove ballast from car, the car is faster, and then AA can gain sponsorship for that fast car?

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