Death of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender hits closer to home for two IndyCar drivers

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The unexpected death of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Matiss Kivlenieks hit home in the NTT IndyCar Series paddock, where Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal had connections to the late NHL goalie.

Rossi hung out June 29 with Kivlenieks at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a few days ahead of Rossi practicing, qualifying and racing at the track that played host to the 10th race of the season (the Honda Indy 200 was won by Josef Newgarden).

In part to promote his recently announced return to the Baja 1000 in a Honda Ridgeline later this year (his third start in the prestigious event and the first since 2019), Rossi took Kivlenieks and Blue Jackets teammate Elvis Merzlikins for rides in the off-road truck around the sprawling property.

“This hits hard. Prayers to the family and team,” Rossi tweeted in response to the news.

Graham Rahal, who considers Columbus, Ohio, as a hometown, also tweeted his condolences about Kivlenieks’ death, calling it “Terrible. Terrible, news. RIP Kivi. What a sad day for his family and the entire hockey community.”

Rahal is a big Blue Jackets fan who often tweets about the team’s games and playoff runs.

Kivlenieks, 24, died from chest trauma following a Fourth of July fireworks accident in Novi, Michigan. The Oakland County medical examiner determined the death was caused by a fireworks mortar blast. Police earlier had said it was due to a fall.

“[T]he mortar-style firework tilted slightly and started to fire toward people nearby Sunday night,” according to the Associated Press. “The 24-year-old Kivleniek was in a hot tub and tried to get clear with several other people, police Lt. Jason Meier said.

Kivlenieks also played for the Latvian national team, playing four games in the IIHF World Championship in May (including a shutout of Canada in the opening game).

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.