Saturday's motors: VeeKay becomes IndyCar’s latest first-time winner

Associated Press

Indianapolis — Rinus VeeKay continued IndyCar’s youth movement Saturday by scoring his first career victory with a win on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Dutchman became the third first-time winner through five races this season, the most at this point in the season since 2013.

Rinus VeeKay of The Netherlands celebrates after winning the IndyCar auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I have never cried before when I won a race, but I did today,” said VeeKay, who vowed to eat a cheesecake – perhaps the whole thing – in celebration.

The 20-year-old is the fourth winner 24 or younger to reach victory lane this season, joining Alex Palou, Colton Herta, and Pato O’Ward in what is quickly becoming a changing of the guard in IndyCar.

Only six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon has been to victory lane so far this year for the veterans as the series heads next week into preparations for the Indianapolis 500.

But it is VeeKay who now believes he can win the 500. He drives for local team Ed Carpenter Racing, a Chevy-powered organization that has put team owner Carpenter on the pole for the 500 three times.

“They were already like super motivated, but I’m pretty sure now for the 500 everyone is just going to be next-level motivated,” VeeKay said. “I know we have a good 500 car, good oval car, I think we can really, really do well. I feel super confident.”

VeeKay is so confident that he already knows should he win the 500 he’d like a bottle of whole milk. Not because it is his first choice – that would be buttermilk – but because he liked the way it looked in 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud’s photos.

“I saw the photo of Simon pouring milk on his face, and I think the whole milk gives the nice thick layer of milk, which I like,” he said.

His win Saturday was the first for ECR since Josef Newgarden won for the team in 2016. Newgarden has since moved to Team Penske and won two IndyCar championships.

VeeKay, meanwhile, has climbed through the IndyCar development system and is the first driver to win at all four levels of the Road to Indy program. He won six races in Indy Lights in 2019, seven races and the Indy Pro 2000 championship in 2018 and three races in USF2000 in 2017.

Mentored by two-time Indy 500 winner and fellow Dutchman Arie Luyendyk, VeeKay is the first Dutch winner in IndyCar since Robert Doornbos won a pair of CART races in 2007. He lives on Main Street in Speedway across the street from the track and rides his bike to work each day.

“I live like right next door, so every day I wake up, open the curtains and I see the grandstands of the racetrack,” he said. “It’s just the perfect day at the most perfect place on earth.”

VeeKay sliced through the center of Palou and Jimmie Johnson on a gutsy three-wide pass to show early how aggressive he was at Indy and then chased down pole-sitter Romain Grosjean to take his first lead of the race on Lap 45.

Grosjean reclaimed the lead when VeeKay pitted, setting up a potential second showdown. But this time Grosjean was not able to beat VeeKay off pit road and VeeKay was easily past Grosjean before Grosjean got back onto track.

VeeKay beat him to the finish line by nearly 5 seconds.

Grosjean led a race-high 44 laps and finished second for his first podium finish since 2015 in Formula One. The Frenchman survived a fiery crash in Bahrain last November that left him with severe scarring on his hands and marked the end of his F1 career.

He won the pole for the race in just his third IndyCar start – his first pole in 10 years – and the crowd at Indy cheered at the fence for him following his finish.

“Bahrain was horrible but for my life it’s been a great experience and people are really behind me and I can feel it,” Grosjean said. “The support I am having is incredible. You’ve only seen me smiling here in the U.S. and we are happy to be racing here.”

The best part?

“Leading races, that’s what I came for,” he said.

Palou was third, followed by Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi, Scott McLaughlin, Dixon, and Marcus Ericsson.

Xfinity

Austin Cindric professed his love for Dover and soon refused to let his Miles the Monster trophy out of his grip. With so many close calls on the concrete, Cindric was sure to savor this checkered flag – and keep his trophy within reach.

“It’s still in my lap like a child or a dog,” Cindric said. “This is one I wanted for a very long time.”

Cindric saved his car from a serious spin early in the race and dominated late Saturday at Dover International Speedway and won his third Xfinity Series race of the season.

The reigning Xfinity champion, Cindric showed flashes throughout his career on the one-mile concrete track that he could roll into victory lane. Cindric was second and third in two Xfinity races last season on the Monster Mile and had never finished worse than ninth in six previous Dover starts.

Can a second Xfinity title be far behind?

“My mentality cannot change from last year,” he said. “It’s all about going to Phoenix. We’re obviously doing a lot of great things, but we can’t slow down. Everyone else is getting better, as well.”

He connected with Ty Gibbs near the end of the first stage and the No. 22 Ford swiveled a bit until Cindric straightened it and kept it on pace for the win.

“I definitely did not remain calm for the two laps after that,” Cindric said.

He settled down soon enough and led the final 51 laps.

The 22-year-old Cindric stood in the window and pumped his fists toward thousands of fans who turned out at Dover a year after they were banned from attending because of the coronavirus pandemic. Dover said Sunday’s Cup race was sold out, with capacity capped at 20,000 ticketed fans.

Cindric opened this season with a win at Daytona and again won four races later at Phoenix. He finished 30th last week at Darlington but still came into Saturday with a 39-point lead over Daniel Hemric in the points standings.

He won his 11th career Xfinity race; he had six wins last season.

Josh Berry, who makes his Cup debut Sunday, was second and Justin Allgaier was third. Berry, a former bank teller, won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus awarded to Xfinity drivers.

“It could have been one spot better,” Berry said. “We just weren’t quite as good on that last run as we were the run before.”

AJ Allmendinger and Gibbs completed the top five.

Last week’s winner at Darlington, Allgaier made the tough call to turn down a chance to drive the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports in Sunday’s Cup race once Justin Haley could not compete because of COVID-19 protocols.

The ride went to Berry.

Allgaier’s wife, Ashley, is set to give birth to their child any day and he planned to be by her side. He said he was “on the fence” about even racing on Saturday. He nearly ended up in victory lane.

“As disappointing as it was not to go run tomorrow, I thought it was the best decision for myself and my family,” he said.

The race was stopped for 10 minutes after a crash that saw Matt Jaskol’s car land on top of Jesse Little’s car and come to a rest on the concrete.

“I feel like an idiot,” Little said.

Jaskol was in just his third career Xfinity Race and admitted “I just need the laps” necessary to possibly avoid a potential future pileup.

Jaskol might have a better eye in the sky – he’s served as a spotter for Marco Andretti at the Indianapolis 500. The 36-year-old Jaskol was once a driver in the IndyCar pipeline and has competed in a wide variety of motorsports. He’s worked as a stunt driver, which should have been a familiar feel for him as his Toyota treated Little’s car like a ramp.

NASCAR Cup

Kyle Larson made a quick Zoom stop Saturday before he zipped off to his latest sprint car race: the NASCAR star had to say hello to the students at the Urban Youth Racing School.

“It’s good to be back racing again in NASCAR,” he told the class.

Larson’s road back to NASCAR after he was suspended last season for using a slur during an iRacing event can be traced in large part back to his heavy involvement with UYRS. The Philly-based program that creates opportunities in racing for minorities extended an olive branch last year to Larson and a fast friendship was formed with program founders Anthony and Michelle Martin.

In a sport in which minorities are scarce at all levels, the Martins made it their mission to introduce inner-city youngsters, most of them Black, to the motorsports world with the school. The school has served more than 7,500 students from ages 8 to 18 over the last 22 years and teaches all aspects of auto racing, including driving and Black racing history. UYRS uses a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum and students are quizzed and graded and compete for various year-end awards.

Larson surprised the school last year when he bought it two racing simulators and gave them a test run in September against select students. Chevrolet has since bought the school two more simulators.

“What kind of stuff will you guys work on, today, this year?” Larson asked the class of 15 students.

Martin and his staff had a full syllabus devoted to topics ranging from race car aerodynamics to a history lesson on the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes, an auto racing event for top Black drivers in the 1920s and 1930s.

The students made model stock cars they were going to place in a miniature wind tunnel – powered by CO2 cartridges – and then use what they learned in competitive races against each other. The kids sanded their cars – think Pinewood Derby – to make them race ready.

“That’d be good for me to learn about, too,” Larson said, smiling. “I don’t know much about aerodynamics. I just know when a car has grip and doesn’t have grip.”

The 28-year-old Larson impressed the boys and girls with a taste of his schedule that included a dirt late model race Wednesday in Indiana, he raced a sprint car Friday Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and was back at the same track Saturday. He starts fourth in Sunday’s Cup race at Dover International Speedway. He won his last Cup race at Dover in 2019, his last victory before his suspension.

Larson has one win and five top-five finishes this season for Hendrick Motorsports. He told the class the No. 5 Chevrolet team has challenged for another “four or five wins, probably” but hasn’t closed the deal.

“It’s been fun. We’ve been fast,” he said. “Just based of sheer speed, we’ve probably been the fastest car each weekend, or most weekends.”