Cup Series welcomes Russian driver's return to racing

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AJ Allmendinger (16) leads Ty Gibbs (45) through the first turn during practice for the NASCAR auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Saturday, July 30, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

INDIANAPOLIS – Daniil Kvyat spent nearly two years waiting anxiously to race again.

After being relegated to reserve driver for last year's Formula One season, he watched helplessly as his team withdrew from the world endurance series in March when the governing body imposed sanctions against Russians because of their country's invasion of Ukraine.

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On Sunday, the ,28-year-old with three F1 podium finishes will finally take the green flag — as the first Russian to start a Cup race. He'll start 36th alongside Erik Jones on Indy's 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.

“I was very excited to get in the car here," a relieved Kvyat said Saturday. "For me, it was like when the car started, ‘I was like, yes, we're going on track. Finally, we're going racing.' Yes, this is really cool, so yeah, very, very excited.”

Kvyat last competed at Abu Dhabi in mid-December 2020. He finished 13th in the race and 14th in points during the COVID-19-shortened season, posting seven top-10 results in 17 starts.

It wasn't enough to convince AlphaTauri to re-sign Kvyat and he settled for a second-tier job with the European-based Alpine Team.

Now, like other former F1 drivers, Kvyat seems to have found a new home on American soil.

He thanked NASCAR for opening its arms after he was spurned by FIA, and he hopes to follow in the footsteps of other international drivers who have made successful transitions from Europe.

Romain Grosjean posted two runner-up finishes on Indy's road course last year, his rookie IndyCar season. Two-time world champ Fernando Alonso nearly won the Indianapolis 500 in his debut year, and Juan Pablo Montoya won one of his two 500s and two Cup races after leaving F1.

Kvyat might not be at that level yet. But he's paired with Loris Hezemans, a 25-year-old Dutchman, on Team Hezeberg. Hezemans qualified 34th for the first European-based Cup team.

And Kvyat has already recognized some of the distinct challenges American racers face.

“In Formula One, it's a bit different. The sponsors, they choose you and they pay you — I always get paid," he said. “Here, you have to acquire your own people and I'm ready to acquire more people behind me."

Kvyat's team would appreciate a schedule expansion courtesy of additional sponsorship money. IndyCars could be an option, too.

But, for now, Kvyat is content with competing in as many races as possible this season, finding a full-time ride in the future and avoiding any more long layoffs.

“I'm very open-minded to perhaps do a full season here one day, maybe next year," he said. "But I need to get up to speed on the ovals, try oval racing and of course want to be competitive. I don't want to come to just drive. I want to be competitive. It means me being in the right place, getting the right experience, being in the right car.”


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