Getting to Texas was stressful ordeal for rookies making IndyCar debuts

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Rinus VeeKay was among the first IndyCar drivers to arrive in Texas this week for Saturday night’s season opener (8 p.m. ET, NBC; schedule below).

The extra time to decompress is welcome for the Dutchman After a wild odyssey to make his NTT IndyCar Series debut, VeeKay could use the rest.

“It was very complicated,” VeeKay said Thursday during an IndyCar Zoom media availability. “I’ve had many weeks of no sleep.”

INFO, PLEASE: Details for Saturday night’s opener at Texas

VeeKay, 19, was in Europe when IndyCar confirmed last month its 2020 schedule would begin at Texas Motor Speedway.

Because he was restricted from traveling to the United States by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, VeeKay flew to Mexico and spent two weeks quarantining in Cancun (bringing along his personal trainer to stay fit) while working through the hurdles of U.S. entry.

“It took a long time to get the approval,” said VeeKay, who finished second in the 2019 Indy Lights points standings with six victories. “We tried to (be) safe, go to Mexico (and) at least be there (to) be closer to the U.S. If we don’t get an approval, I can stay in Mexico and  then travel to the U.S. That was just trying to be sure that I made it. Once I was there, I got the approval.”

Car owner Ed Carpenter said the team worked closely with Indiana Sen. Todd Young’s office to get VeeKay’s entry approved. While pro athletes have been exempted from travel bans, motorsports initially wasn’t on the list until the lobbying of IndyCar, IMSA and NASCAR, Carpenter said.

“There was a whole lot of people that helped make that happen, do it the right way,” Carpenter said. “Really thankful for everyone that played a part in getting Rinus and many other drivers back in the country.

Spaniard Alex Palou also will be making his IndyCar debut at Texas after getting cleared to travel from his native country to Texas last week. Palou has been staying at his residence in Austin, Texas, this week and planned to drive in Friday afternoon to Texas Motor Speedway and stay overnight ahead of Saturday’s full schedule of practice, qualifying and racing.

“Just to be sure I get there safe,” Palou said Thursday. “Now that I came from Spain, I don’t want to have a (tire) puncture or something because for sure that’s the typical things that happens to me, so I’m going to be there Friday night and wake up and just drive to the track.”

SATURDAY INDYCAR START TIMES AND TV SCHEDULE:

IndyCar practice: 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying5 p.m., NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold

Countdown to Green: 7:30 p.m., NBCSN

IndyCar Genesys 3008 p.m., NBC

IndyCar postrace coverage: 10 p.m., NBCSN