All eyes are on Krysten Anderson as she inherits Grave Digger in Monster Jam

Anderson Grave Digger
Feld Entertainment, Inc.

The 2021 Monster Jam season looks different than years past, in part because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has affected every part of racers, teams, and fans’ daily lives, but also because Krysten Anderson has inherited the famous Grave Digger monster truck. And with that, the most famous ride in the sport has its first full-time, female driver.

When a driver levels up and takes on a new challenge, there is always a heightened level of scrutiny. Now add a family legacy, an iconic truck, gender politics, as well as a shortened 2020 season that limited her seat time and you’ll start to understand the pressure of Anderson’s Stadium Series debut.

After five years in the arena series, Anderson made the transition to stadium behind the wheel of Grave Digger, the truck made famous by her father Dennis Anderson, on January 30, 2021. The next night, she finished second in the Freestyle Competition.

Anderson was the third of her siblings to follow in her dad’s tire tracks when she joined the tour in 2016. Brothers Adam Anderson and Ryan Anderson spent the 2000s and 2010s raking up Freestyle and Racing World Championships. Adam has five; Ryan has two. With his 2008 Monster Jam World Finals Freestyle Championship, Adam holds the record for youngest titleholder at 22.

“As Andersons, we have a certain level of expertise for driving,” Krysten told NBC Sports. “My brothers are World Champions. They’re excellent drivers. My dad retired as a World Champion, he’s an amazing driver.

“Especially me being the first and only female to drive Grave Digger, I feel like I have extra eyes on me.”

Anderson Grave Digger
The Grave Digger monster truck looms large behind Krysten Anderson, but it’s not as big as her father’s legacy. Feld Entertainment, Inc.

Anderson has heard the questions that surround her new role: “How will she do?” “Why is she driving Grave Digger?”

But these question were far from her mind when Anderson climbed up into the most famous truck in the stadium at Houston.

Every race weekend gives Anderson the chance to prove herself again as the rightful heir to Grave Digger and quiet the peanut gallery.

“It can be a lot of pressure sometimes, but it fuels me when I have a rough show and I’m getting the feedback of it,” Anderson said. “Alright fine, I have another race tomorrow and I’m going to do even better, and I usually do.”

And that is precisely what she did in Houston.

After finishing last in the opening night with a score of 6.071 to Todd LeDuc and Monster Energy’s 9.437, Anderson improved massively in Night 2 and scored a 8.919. Only Cory Rummell in a truck named Rage was better the second night with his 9.551.

Anderson’s resilience has paid off. In four seasons she’s advanced to the sport’s biggest stage where she gets to face off against the most qualified drivers and prove why she’s the right Anderson to inherit the Grave Digger seat.

“It’s been a baptism by fire, but I’ve done well with the pressure so far,” Anderson said. “You can’t create a diamond without a little bit of pressure. I’ve been doing pretty good. I’ve grown in leaps and bounds over the span of four years.”

Praise from one’s competitors is always valuable; it’s more impactful when it comes from family – especially when one’s family has the skill and reputation of the Andersons.

“My brothers and my dad, as long as their careers have been, they’re always telling me that they’re impressed with me,” Anderson said. “How quickly I learn and pick up on things. I think maybe here in a few more years I’ll be at a very competitive level. I’ll be one to look out for.”

Anderson is only the third female driver to compete full-time in the Stadium series. Her pedigree, skills, and relationship with the fan base set her up to complete a large feat and she’s only a few seasons away from being in the rumor mill of World Champion talk.

Andersons don’t settle for a second when they can achieve first.

“I hope when it comes time for me to retire I’ll have multiple World Championships under my belt.”

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Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500