NASHVILLE, Tenn — Colton Herta is untouchable right now. He has led literally every session run this weekend on the streets of Nashville including taking home the pole for Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix (5:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, INDYCAR Radio Network). Herta, is as confident now as he’s ever been. Luckily, he’s realistically too far out to stake a claim and earning his first career NTT IndyCar Series championship.
He’s just focusing on max points and race wins and letting the chips fall where they may. For the driver starting alongside of him in Sunday’s 80 Lap race, he knows that he has a lot to race for still. It’s not so simple for Dixon. He has a championship he can still fight for.
Dixon enters Sunday’s race 56 points behind his teammate Alex Palou for the championship lead. But, did Palou’s grid penalty from having to change an engine open the door for Dixon to come back in?
“All Ganassi cars rolled off fairly well,” Dixon said on Saturday after earning the second starting spot. “Cars were fast. Felt bad obviously for Marcus and Jimmie. They’ve been making some really good inroads. Obviously with Alex getting a penalty, those penalties are pretty tough, one that was totally out of his control. That was definitely a bummer.
“Yeah, I think for qualifying for me, it was probably a little too cautious on the first two qualifyings to make sure I could get through the first two groups because I’ve been making a bit of a struggle to get around the track in one piece this weekend.
“Yeah, once we got there, I knew we could push a little bit harder. Made I think a good gain on second run on red tires. We knew with Herta saving that set of reds, he was going to be almost impossible to beat. He has been all weekend. Class of the field. Congrats to him.
“All in all, a great starting for us on the PNC Bank No. 9. Kudos to Honda, I think they’ve done a tremendous job all weekend and have been super fast.”
Palou, initially qualified his No. 10 Honda in third but due to a blown engine in an offseason test at the Barber Motorsports Park back in the winter, it put them behind. See, they knew they’d be one engine behind everyone else and for the second time this season, it’s came back to bite them.
The damage is at least minimal as he’ll roll off ninth instead of third, but this is a tough course to pass on. How many spots can he realistically make up?
Meanwhile, Dixon put his No. 9 Honda on the front row. In fact, he was second in practice on Friday and third on Saturday. The speed is there. Can the “Ice Man” stage a comeback?
He’s had a pair of fourth place finishes in the last two races and six top fives this season. Palou, has had seven top fives himself but six of them have been on the podium to Dixon’s two. That plus Dixon having bad luck via an ill timed first caution in the double points paying Indy 500 has put him farther back than he really should be.
The opportunity is now there for Dixon as second in points, Pato O’Ward, will start one spot in front of Palou in eighth. Fourth in points, Josef Newgarden, starts 12th. Dixon is the only one in the top six in points entering this weekend’s race to even have a top five starting spot on Sunday.
From here it’s to the Indy road course, a spot where Dixon won at last year and had three straight runner-up results prior. Then it’s to World Wide Technology Raceway to where Dixon won at a year ago. Then, it’s to the west coast swing to where Palou and O’Ward have never raced at any of those tracks.
Is this the moment the pendulum has swung back in Dixon’s favor? The door is now open.