Nashville winner not upset over IndyCar's surprising change

Kyle Kirkwood knows that IndyCar wasn't going back to the Nashville track where he won anyway, so he is embracing the move to the oval.

Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Global, Nashville, IndyCar
Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Global, Nashville, IndyCar / Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA

The NTT IndyCar Series made the surprising announcement last month that the 2024 season finale had been moved from the streets of Nashville, Tennessee to Nashville Superspeedway, which hasn't hosted an IndyCar race since 2008, as a result of the construction of the new Tennessee Titans stadium.

After three seasons of hosting a race in August, the streets of Nashville were set to host the September season finale for the first time in 2024. Now the series is set for its first oval championship decider since 2014.

But after winning on the streets of Nashville last year to secure his second victory in his first season with Andretti Global, Kyle Kirkwood isn't sweating the change.

The layout that hosted the first three races on the city streets was a 11-turn, 2.17-mile (3.492-kilometer). That layout was set to change anyway in 2024 -- same length, but only seven turns.

"They were going to change it inevitably," Kirkwood told Beyond the Flag. "It wasn't ever going to be that same exact track that that I drove on and won at, so that was bittersweet as it was."

Andretti Global's primary strength in recent seasons has been street circuits; they haven't won a single oval race since now-Arrow McLaren driver Alexander Rossi won at Pocono Raceway in 2018.

Kirkwood earned the team's only two wins in his first season with the organization last year, with the first also coming on the iconic street circuit in Long Beach, California.

"Maybe a little bit disappointed [Nashville] moved from downtown," Kirkwood admitted. "But at the same time, who knows? maybe it'll be a blessing in disguise for us and we'll be super strong at the oval there."

That said, Kirkwood is looking forward to IndyCar's return downtown.

"I look forward for it to come back," he said. "I assume that's the goal of IndyCar, and I think it's really just the construction that has kind of hindered the progress of being able to run at that racetrack downtown, so I can look at it both ways; I'll let you know more when we show to the track how we're doing there!"

The race's current contract runs through 2026, and the construction would allow for a 2027 return at the earliest. How the event is received at the four-turn, 1.333-mile (2.145-kilometer) Lebanon oval, which was also just added to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2021, could be key to any future deals involving the greater Nashville area.

Kirkwood is also looking forward to the addition of the Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge, a first-time exhibition race scheduled to take place at The Thermal Club in between the season's first two points races.

"It's cool because if it wasn't for that race, we’d go into St Pete and then sit around for a month, which feels really weird to kick off the season then have a month break," he explained. "So we're happy we get to go do this race and it kind of creates an opportunity for us to also test things that we might not test on a normal race weekend, so it's good for us, it's good for the series, it gets us on TV more, so for me it's all positive."

The 2024 IndyCar season is scheduled to get underway this weekend with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida on Sunday, March 10.

The Thermal Club race is scheduled for Sunday, March 24, and the season's second points race isn't scheduled to take place until Sunday, April 21 at Long Beach, where Kirkwood is the reigning winner.

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