VeeKay bounces back for strong start in ‘500’

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INDIANAPOLIS – In many ways, Rinus VeeKay is still just a kid. The 19-year-old from The Netherlands hangs with the younger drivers in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, likes to ride his bike through the farms of “beautiful Indiana,” as he calls this state, and he admits to still enjoying drinking milk.

That’s highly appropriate considering VeeKay was honored Tuesday with the “Fastest Rookie Award” by the American Dairy Association of Indiana.

VeeKay is the fastest teenager in Indianapolis 500 history with a four-lap qualifying average of 230.704 mph in last weekend’s Fast Nine Shootout for the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. VeeKay will start Sunday’s race in the fourth position, the highest such spot for a driver still in his teens.

But there is another drink of milk that VeeKay looks forward to. It comes from the bottle that is handed to the race winner in Victory Lane.

“I will happily enjoy a good glass of milk Sunday,” VeeKay said.

VeeKay, the Ed Carpenter Racing driver of the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet from Hoofddorp, Netherlands, has chosen whole milk should he win the race. It’s worth noting that his country is known for its abundance of dairy farms.

Don’t discount the possibility of VeeKay excelling Sunday because in many ways he’s been this season’s “comeback kid.”

VeeKay’s first INDYCAR season began June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, and his performance that day drew the ire of team owner/driver Ed Carpenter. It was a one-day show, and VeeKay crashed his race car twice in the same day.

Both times, he made the mistake of going into Turn 2 using the wrong lane of the track. Both times, he ended up in the wall.

Carpenter said he had a lot of work to do with VeeKay.

But Since then, VeeKay has impressively improved. He finished fifth in the next race, the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, after starting 18th. He was the first driver to pit, which put him on a different fuel strategy in a race that featured just one caution period. Carpenter said VeeKay’s pace and strategy forced other teams to change their strategy, which was a compliment.

Once VeeKay was running in the top five, he was able to develop the experience and confidence of competing with INDYCAR’s fast group.

“Texas was a little immature for me,” VeeKay said. “I learned a lot from it. You have to make mistakes to make sure you don’t make them anymore. I really improved afterward and made sure it wouldn’t happen anymore.

“Indy road course was really good. We had some bad luck afterward, but at Iowa, if that restart crash didn’t happen, we were on the same strategy behind Simon Pagenaud. We were on our way to a podium there.

“There was a lot possible. If luck goes our way like it did last weekend, we can really show who Rinus VeeKay is.”

Carpenter realizes what VeeKay is capable of accomplishing, even if it took a little criticism at Texas to speed up the learning process.

“To be honest, I was definitely hard on him in Texas,” Carpenter said. “We've made a lot of progress since then. He’s really made a lot of progress since Texas.

“We have spent a lot of time talking about Indy, done quite a lot of work in the simulator, preparing him as much as we can for everything. I haven't worked with a rookie in a long time, but I give him the same type of advice that I've given other drivers that haven't been there before or in a while. In a lot of ways, I just take them through my process, things that I focus on, things that they need to be careful of, how we need to approach different situations.

“We've put a lot of effort into it. I'm optimistic that he's prepared.”

VeeKay was the only Chevrolet driver to earn a spot in the Fast Nine Shootout. He also was faster than boss Carpenter, who will start 16th Sunday in the No. 20 United States Space Force Chevrolet, and Conor Daly, driver of the U.S. States Air Force Chevrolet who starts 18th.

“Ed was proud of us, proud of me,” VeeKay said, beaming with pride. “It’s the whole team effort. You need a comfortable car, a quick car, at IMS. The team has given me that. I have to finish the job now. There is a little bit of pressure on my shoulders, but we can make it a great weekend.”

So far, it’s been a great week for VeeKay, but Sunday he’ll compete against some of the best drivers in the world.

“Alexander Rossi won it as a rookie in 2016, and it shows I have a chance this year,” VeeKay said. “Anything is possible at the ‘500.’ We have a shot at the win.”

When VeeKay was growing up, two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk was his hero. Luyendyk has been mentoring the Dutch prodigy, who continues to make significant progress.

“Arie always inspired me when I was a little kid to do what he did,” VeeKay said. “Now, I’m standing here driving the Indy 500.

“It’s amazing to be part of this. To be part of this whole happening, being a Dutchman who hopes he can drink some milk on Sunday, it’s pretty cool.

“To finally have the chance to drive the ‘500,’ it’s what I dreamed of when I was a little child.”

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