The Xpel 375 was one of the most entertaining NTT IndyCar Series races at Texas Motor Speedway in quite some time. Josef Newgarden narrowly beat his teammate Scott McLaughlin to the line by a margin of .067 seconds with a last lap, last corner move to claim his first win of the young season.
For the five rookies in the field (Tatiana Calderon is only running a road and street course program), this was their first race on an oval. It was a major learning experience, regardless of background, that put all on level playing field. So, who came out on top? What lessons did these rookies learn? Let’s take a closer look in this week’s IndyCar Series Rookie Report.
DAVID MALUKAS – DALE COYNE RACING WITH HMD MOTORSPORTS
QUALIFYING: NINETEENTH – RACE: ELEVENTH (+8)
After crashing in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, David Malukas bounced back to finish best of all rookies in the Xpel 375 with an eleventh place finish.
Malukas was quick all race long, and found himself in tenth place before the first pit stops of the day. During his first pit stop on lap 60, he stalled leaving his pit box that saw him fall as far down as twenty-sixth place. Malukas spent the rest of his race climbing back through the field and did so successfully, even leading the first three laps of his IndyCar career late in the race.
Malukas fell back down the order, and rejoined the race in sixteenth after his final pit stop. Once again, he collected five positions as he climbed all the way back up to eleventh, just shy of his first IndyCar top-ten finish. The American cited his ability to fight through adversity as one of the best parts about the sport.
“I think that really shows how great IndyCar is and how great Texas Motor Speedway is,” Malukas said.
“You have moments where unfortunate things can happen but you can still be a front runner. I want to thank the team for giving me a great car and everyone for their support.”
CALLUM ILOTT – JUNCOS HOLLINGER RACING
QUALIFYING: TWENTIETH – RACE: SIXTEENTH (+4)
Callum Ilott came into this weekend with only one day of testing at an oval under his belt, and was happy to finish the race and gather valuable oval experience.
“…finishing out that race was great to get the first oval under my belt,” he said.
“There were no real issues and now I have over 240 laps under my belt. We will move on and this was good work for Indy.”
Ilott stated that he struggled early in the race, but like Malukas, Ilott also ran out front, leading five of the 247 laps. For a driver who comes from a European formula racing background, putting over 200 laps of oval racing on his resume will be nothing but beneficial going forward with his IndyCar career.
CHRISTIAN LUNDGAARD – RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-FOURTH – RACE: NINETEENTH (+5)
Another rookie that comes from the European formula background, Christian Lundgaard also came into this with ovals being incredibly foreign. He impressed with some running time in the top ten, but late in the race made contact with Colton Herta and made the decision to retire on lap 233 to keep the car in one piece.
“I came back in again because the car just didn’t feel right afterwards,” he said.
“I wasn’t going to put the car on the line, we were 4 laps down anyway at that point so we will take the experience and look forward to Long Beach.”
Despite the early exit, the young Dane spoke highly of his car and his first race on an oval.
“In the end I’m happy to have the car in one piece, but it was one hell of an experience. I think the car was great all day, dirty air definitely makes a difference, but the car was just awesome in clean air. By the end we were catching up to everyone pretty quickly. We were basically the fastest car on the track at that point for quite some time. So I think as a first experience I can be satisfied, be happy.”
DEVLIN DEFRANCESCO – ANDRETTI STEINBRENNER AUTOSPORT
QUALIFIED: SEVENTEENTH – FINISHED: TWENTY-FOURTH (-7)
Devlin DeFrancesco found himself in the middle of multiple incidents during the Xpel 375. On lap 99, DeFrancesco slid up the track slightly and made contact with Takuma Sato, forcing the Japanese driver up the track as he grazed the wall. On lap 114, DeFrancesco was on the inside of Kyle Kirkwood as he spun in turn 4, ending his day with a hard crash. And on lap 129, DeFrancesco made a bold attempt at going three-wide with Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal that took all three cars out of the race.
The young Canadian took full blame for the final incident, and once again is left without a top twenty finish two races into the season.
KYLE KIRKWOOD – A.J. FOYT ENTERPRISES
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-THIRD – FINISHED: TWENTY-FIFTH (-2)
To put it plainly, Kirkwood had the best rookie performance at the Xpel 375. In the first twenty-five laps, Kirkwood had worked his way from twenty-third to the top ten. The reigning Indy Lights champion was one of few to use the new second line and he put it to great use, dazzling with his ability to pass around the outside. Even pit stop mistakes didn’t stop Kirkwood, as he continued to claw back every time. Eventually, it was the outside lane that would be his downfall.
Racing with DeFrancesco on lap 129, Kirkwood fell victim to the PJ1 compound that sent the car sliding into the wall, crushing the left rear of the car and ending Kirkwood’s stellar performance.
“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,” he said.
“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.”