Kirkwood, Rossi charge hard at Iowa Speedway

Kirkwood during his charge at Iowa Speedway. Image: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

Tyre degradation and pit strategy in a fast 250 laps at Iowa Speedway helped Kyle Kirkwood and Alexander Rossi both gain 10 positions in the 28-car field.

Kirkwood started 17th and didn’t gain many positions early in the race, but the #27 Andretti Autosport Honda came alive during the middle portion of the race. After the second cycle of pit stops, the Floridian moved up to sixth place by staying out longer in that stint of the race.

The 2021 Indy NXT champion pitted under the yellow for Graham Rahal’s Turn 4 wall contact and kept himself in sixth place until Scott Dixon passed Kirkwood on Lap 214 for the position.

Kirkwood kept his car seventh and fought race winner Josef Newgarden to keep himself on the lead lap but fell one lap down for good on Lap 244.

“Our car was really good at some stages, sometimes it wasn’t,” Kirkwood said. “It was kind of confusing to us but we’re going to look into it and figure out exactly what that was, hopefully home in on it for tomorrow. We were the quickest car in kind of the middle of the race and then we were okay at the end.”

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Tyre degradation is the main strategic decider at Iowa and Kirkwood was proud of his and his car’s ability to maximize tyre life.

“I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I was very cognizant of trying to keep the tyres under us,” Kirkwood said.

“Whereas a lot of people were racing hard, and we were able to make up positions a lot earlier or a lot easier later in the stints compared to others that were making them up in the beginning of the stint. So that was one thing that was good on our end and the team kept me calm in that situation as well, so tyre deg wasn’t too bad for us.”

Rossi’s race was a bit opposite of Kirkwood’s. The 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner started 20th but was running 16th at the end of the first lap thanks to a daring pass around the outside of Christian Lundgaard, Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal before the back straight.

Rossi was up to 13th on Lap 3 and stayed there for much of the opening stint of the race. After the first round of green flag pit stops, the #7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet moved up to 11th place and gradually moved up to seventh place behind Kirkwood before the yellow flag.

Rossi couldn’t quite make enough moves late in the race to keep that position and fell to 10th after the final round of pit stops.

“I don’t know that the car was magical, I think we did a good job from a strategy standpoint,” Rossi said. “Our deg was pretty good, pit stops were great, we had a good start and that was pretty much it.

“It’s always hard around here, but for sure this is the best car over a long run that I’ve ever had around here.”

Rossi was deep in discussions on the pit wall with his engineers before heading back to the transporter to dig into the data and try to figure out how to improve the car with race engineer Craig Hampson.

“We’ve got a lot of squiggly lines to look at,” Rossi said with a light chuckle.

Kirkwood and Rossi will both start on the ninth row for Sunday’s 250-lap race with Kirkwood in 17th and Rossi in 18th.

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