NASHVILLE, Tenn — Two practice sessions and now qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s highly anticipated Big Machine Music City Grand Prix (5:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, INDYCAR Radio Network) are now in the books. The main question now is, who’s going to win the inaugural race?
Race Day Schedule
1-1:30 pm: Warmup Peacock
5:05 pm: Cars To Grid
5:26 pm: Invocation
5:28 pm: National Anthem
5:29 pm: Drivers To Cars
5:38 pm: Command
5:45 pm: Green Flag
Coverage: 5:30 p.m. ET
Green Flag: 5:45 p.m. ET
Radio: INDYCAR Radio Network
Phone: INDYCAR App
Race Distance: 80 Laps/173.6 Miles
Race: 11 of 17
Track: Streets of Nashville
Who Will Win?
Colton Herta looks the best. Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi have an intense battle for next in class. The only reason Alex Palou isn’t joined in that party is due to his grid penalty. The Arrow McLaren SP duo rank tops among the bowties with Felix Rosenqvist showing great improvement from upgrades that they found in the month off while Pato O’Ward would be further up the grid if not for an early practice crash on Friday and being slowed while on a hot lap when Josef Newgarden crashed on the final lap of qualifying in the second round.
So, who wins?
Well, the trends say anyone coming from the top 5 Rows on Sunday will end up celebrating in victory lane on Sunday evening. 80% (8-for-10) of the races this season were won by top 10 starters. Furthermore, 21 of the last 24 were won by top 10 starters overall. Also, among those 21 winners, 20 of them came from the top 4 Rows at that.
While two of the three races that didn’t see a winner come from the top 10 were this season on the streets of Belle Isle, I still don’t trust that the winner won’t come from the top 10 on a tight street circuit. I mean just look at the other street courses in general too.
15 of the 17 INDYCAR races on the streets of St. Pete have seen the eventual race winner come from a top 10 starting spot. In fact, 12 of the last 16 race winners at St. Pete all started in the top five.
In Long Beach, the last five race winners all started from the top two rows.
Prior to this year, 4 of the last 6 Belle Isle winners started in the top two rows too.
In respect to that, we can really eliminate anyone coming from 11th on back. So, lets advance Colton Herta, Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Alexander Rossi, Felix Rosenqvist, Romain Grosjean, Jack Harvey, Simon Pagenaud, Pato O’Ward and James Hinchcliffe.
Now, lets narrow it down even more.
The street races tend to lead to drivers actually inside the Fast Six winning too. Long Beach and Belle Isle have seen nine of their last 11 won by drivers in the top 2 Rows. 12 of the last 16 years in St. Pete from the top five.
I think we can get this down to drivers in the Fast Six, so lets advance – Herta, Dixon, Rossi, Rosenqvist, Grosjean and Harvey. *Note, Alex Palou qualified third but has to serve a six spot grid penalty so he moves to ninth and Harvey goes from seventh to sixth.
Among those six, we can break it down even further.
The next trend is, since the new car came out in 2018, the “Big 3” have won 46 of the 58 races run (79-percent). Penske has won 23 times with Ganassi (14) and Andretti (9). But, RLL is next best with four victories while no one else has more than three.
Throw in RLL and you get 50 of 58 races won by these teams. You also can’t ignore Arrow McLaren SP who’s won twice this year either.
So, that means the winner likely comes from these teams. Coincidentally enough, these teams are the best on street courses too.
We’ve had three street races this season with three different winners (Colton Herta, Marcus Ericsson, Pato O’Ward) from three different teams (Andretti, Ganassi, AMSP). Do we see a fourth different street course winner in as many races on Sunday? If you go back to Race 2 at Belle Isle in 2019 though, we’ve had six straight different winners on street courses (Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson and O’Ward). In fact, we’ve had seven different winners in the last nine if you throw in Alexander Rossi’s 2019 triumph at Long Beach too.
We’ve also had eight different winners in 10 races run on the season too. How did this play into the scenario?
The big teams are strong on them with Penske winning four of those last nine races and Andretti scoring two wins and Ganassi two themselves. Arrow McLaren SP has the other victory in that span.
Andretti says this is their top types of circuits, where Penske is probably second in nature followed by Ganassi.
Since the start of the 2019 season, Josef Newgarden is the only multi-time winner with three trips to victory lane on these types of tracks, two of which coming on the streets of St. Pete.
Newgarden’s finishes on street courses since that start of the 2019 season?
1st, 2nd, 1st, 19th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 10th and 2nd respectively. While we’ve had parity, he’s the only constant up front with six top two’s in the last nine tries on them. He’s led 84% of the laps the last three races including a pole in all three and is also coming off of a victory the last time out in Mid-Ohio.
This is his hometrack. He also only starts 12th and has been the slowest of the four Penske’s this weekend so it opens up the door for someone else.
Herta and O’Ward have also been among the strongest the last couple of seasons on these tracks and I suspect they will be again on Sunday. They went 1-2 (Newgarden, O’Ward) in the 2020 season finale at St. Pete and the only reason it wasn’t 1-2-3 was due to Herta’s late race misfortunes.
They went 1-2 again (Herta, Newgarden) at St. Pete back in March with Ericsson in seventh for a second straight year on the Florida circuit. In Belle Isle, it was 1-3 (Ericsson, O’Ward) in Race 1 and 1-2-4-9 (O’Ward, Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson) in Race 2.
The thing is, O’Ward will start eighth. We can almost eliminate him too.
Herta is on the pole though. The pole winner has won just twice all year, once on a street course and the other the last time out in Mid-Ohio. The pole winner did triumph in three of the final five races last season though including. Also, the pole winner has finished in the top three in three of the last four races on the season as well as eight top four results in 10 starts during 2021 in general. If you go back to last year, the pole winner has a top five result in 12 of the last 15 races.
Plus, among Herta’s three career wins, all came while starting from the pole, including all three coming consecutively.
The only two times that Herta won a pole and didn’t win the race came in 2019 at Road America and Portland. He’d finish eighth and fourth consecutively in them though.
Andretti Autosport has 13 since the start of the 2017 season and nine of them were from the pole including six of their last seven race wins in general. 10 of their last 11 wins have seen the winner from their organization come from the top 2 rows. Herta is joined by Alexander Rossi (3rd) up front.
If the new first time winner trend continues, Grosjean or Harvey are your picks. But, they don’t follow the trend for the big teams.
If a first time winner on the season trend continues, then Rossi or Rosenqvist are your guys. They do follow the big teams trend.
So, the winner is….
The top 5 finishers according to the trends:
- 26 Herta (was quickest in both practices too)
- 9 Dixon (was 2nd and 3rd in practice, 2nd in qualifying)
- 27 Rossi (Cliche to pick 1-2-3 for them by Rossi was 4th and 2nd in practice this weekend)
- 5 O’Ward (Was 3rd and 1st in Belle Isle)
- 10 Palou (Was 3rd in Belle Isle 2, 6th and 4th in practice and technically qualified 3rd)