Kyle Kirkwood: Andretti’s new leader?

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Credit: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment/Courtesy of IndyCar

In his first season with the team and just his second as a full-time driver in the IndyCar Series, Kyle Kirkwood has emerged as the best out of the Andretti Autosport camp so far in 2023. The 24-year-old clinched his second win of the season yesterday at Nashville’s Music City Grand Prix, adding to his maiden IndyCar triumph on the streets of Long Beach back in April.

Sunday’s result pushed Kirkwood to ninth in the championship standings, five points clear of his closest teammate, Colton Herta, and well clear of the remaining Andretti drivers, Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco, who sit at 13th and 22nd in the standings, respectively. With Kirkwood ahead of Herta in the standings with just four races left in the season, the Floridian could have taken the symbolic torch from Herta as the leader of the four Andretti drivers.

Perhaps that torch was passed in April, when Bryan Herta, Colton’s father and race strategist since 2021, moved over from his son’s #26 car to Kirkwood’s #27. While Colton owns the most wins of any Andretti driver since 2021, a team decision was made following the opening race of the season at St. Petersburg, breaking up the father-son duo whose working relationship was marred by frequent mid-race spats over the radio.

Speaking on the new pair’s working relationship after their win in Nashville., Kirkwood said “It’s clicked right from the start. We’ve done super well together. Bryan is a wealth of knowledge. I always trust.. him to call the best strategy, no matter what. I’ve never doubted him, not for one minute.”

The swap is working in favor of Kirkwood to an extent, with the second-year driver ahead of Herta in both the points and wins columns despite less a consistent season overall. Herta has two more top-10 finishes and an additional pole position to his name to date in ’23.

Credit: James Black/Penske Entertainment/Courtesy of IndyCar

However, Kirkwood doesn’t view racing against his teammates the same as racing against others, saying “I tend to not consider teammates as competitors. I think we all work together super well.” after a battle with Grosjean in Nashville. The now two-time race winner praised Andretti Autosport later on in Sunday’s post-race press conference, stating “Honestly, the team has done a great job. Every weekend we’ve gone into, I think we’ve done everything pretty much exactly how it should be played.”

Despite the two wins Kirkwood has earned this season, it is clear that Herta is still the lead man at Andretti, at least for now. Although the 23-year-old was denied a Super Licence by the FIA in order to compete in Formula 1 in September, he still appears to be the man that Michael Andretti wants to take with him should a potential Andretti F1 entry come to fruition. This could actually work in favor of Kirkwood. If Herta leaves for F1 at some point in the near future, Kirkwood would likely slide up to the #1 spot at Andretti’s IndyCar outfit should he stay with the team.

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Born and raised in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Gabe joined the TCF team in 2023 to cover the IndyCar Series. He currently studies Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University. You can follow him on Twitter @gabe_perrin.
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