Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix was too chaotic, but ending shows the race has future potential still too

NASHVILLE, Tenn –The NTT IndyCar Series and the city of Nashville were setup on a blind date. Both were established and very successful on their own but were setup for a first meeting in person together this weekend. Friday was in fact the first time the two sides had ever gotten together. See, it was slated to be a perfect arrangement that was supposed to lead to a long successful marriage to one another.

Two sets of friends were setup earlier this summer and both were a hit. The NASCAR Cup Series visited the Nashville Superspeedway for the first time ever back in June and it sold out. The SRX Series visited the Nashville Fairgrounds not long after and that event too sold out too.

Well, this one had all the potential to be a successful one, like the ones that their friends shared separately. The thing is, the two sides are quickly finding out in order to make this work, they’ll have to adapt and adjust. It’s more about what can happen in the future than the present but in order to make it a happy fairy tale future, you have to pass the audition and so far, results have been mixed.

Still, all great relationships are about give and take and adapting/adjusting to one another.

No one expected a debut to be perfect and this one has been far from it, but in order to get fans to want to come back to watch your second date next year, the first date needs to improve. Forget what’s occurred outside the fences, that’s a story for another day, but what’s going on inside the track, well it showed that if this race is going to be in the same realm as Monaco or Long Beach, well it has a long way to go to get there.

Nashville raced like a superspeedway this weekend – Photo Credit INDYCAR Media

We saw several incidents this weekend. Saturday alone saw 8 of the 27 cars involved in incidents and that session was only 45 minutes in length. It looked more like a Daytona or Talladega NASCAR race than an INDYCAR practice.

The race looked the same.

Nine cautions for 33 laps including us not getting a full green flag lap until Laps 9-10. The first hour of the race saw six green flag laps, four cautions and one red flag period. The race distance was 2-hours, 18-minutes and 49-seconds. By comparison, the Indy 500 is over 300 miles longer and lasted only 2-hours, 37-minutes and 19-seconds.

As to what could be changed, first off I feel like moving the start and finish lines to the same spot and both being on the bridge is the best scenario. Yes, carnage could ensue there and yes I get the danger aspect of it, but the initial race start in which we all thought would be chaotic really wasn’t and we went green flag on the bridge for that too.

The second and fourth cautions all came due to the restart being on the smaller front stretch. That would instantly help.

Another change has to be pit road in general. I don’t like how fields can be flipped due to cautions, but that sequence when Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi led drivers down pit road and didn’t lose much ground was a little ridiculous.

It was a perfect storm in a sense that pit road is small and you don’t lose much ground as well as a crash in Turn 1 and it being so narrow there wasn’t much room to get by which slowed the pace car up, but in no sense should the leader pit under caution and come out fourth after getting four tires and fuel.

“One of the things I said when I was sitting down in turn 11 with my engine off. In Long Beach we’ve had this problem, too, right? In INDYCAR, on the restarts, when the green flag flies, you can pass. Nine times out of 10, that’s not a problem,” said third place finisher, James Hinchcliffe.

“What we were seeing in Long Beach, as the leader comes out of the hairpin, the green flag flies, the guy in 10th dive bombs the guy in ninth. We end up with a completely clogged racetrack. We came up with a gentlemen’s agreement to not pass under the hairpin, wait till the start/finish.

“I think if we did that in turn 11, said you can’t pass until the start/finish line, you would have eliminated at least one of the reds and another yellow from guys just trying to get cute going into the last corner there.

“There are definitely things we can look at. Look, it was the first time we were doing it, right? There’s always going to be things you can improve from year one. For a first crack at it, as an event, this was pretty frigging awesome.”

In terms of the on track carnage, the bumpy track and drivers’ aggression levels could get adjusted too. Some incidents were truly driver error which having a full weekend under their belts, could only get better in 2022.

“Of course, the race was tricky. I don’t know what happened back in the pack. There was definitely a lot of cautions,” Scott Dixon said. “I felt like the front group was doing really well, taking care of each other, not making these dives that maybe created some of these issues early on.

“I think there were some regulars making mistakes and hitting people. Maybe that needs to be looked at. All the penalties need to be stronger when you cause accidents like that.

“There was just no flow to the race, right? It was like you had six races. So, yeah, I don’t know how it played or how it looked.

“I don’t know. It’s a tricky track. It’s really difficult. Especially on restarts with trying to get temperature in the tires, knowing that it was going to be somewhat hard to pass, there was a lot of people trying to make it happen on restarts. I totally get that.

“I don’t know. It’s a balance, right, that you got to try to work out. Maybe next year I think there may be some areas of track that can change a little bit that would create some passing zones, maybe make the racing a little bit better.

“You look at Herta, he made the passes happen. It can be done cleanly, like he did.”

Hinchcliffe agreed.

“It was eventful,” he said. “We were at the back, front, kind of ran a little bit of everywhere today, in the middle. Like Scott said, we probably had a few too many yellows for what we would have wanted to put on a good show for everyone here.”

They’re not wrong. To have so many cautions and some drivers racing like amateurs, well it wasn’t a very good look and one that wasn’t going to capture the new found fans from this weekend’s attention.

Yes, we had a thrilling finish but most of the weekend lacked momentum. There was just so much stoppage for crashes that it wasn’t fun for anyone to witness.

With some adaption, this race has potential. I just hope the fans show up next year like they did this and the anticipation doesn’t drop off much.

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