Sunday’s Music City Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) race preview

The NTT INDYCAR Series brings a street fight to Music City for a 6 horse race right now to take home the 2022 Astor Cup championship trophy next month in Laguna Seca. Just 52 points separate the top 6 in the standings while no one can truly pull away from the pack after 13 races run this season.

Nashville is a party town and INDYCAR knows how to throw a carnival atmosphere with fun drivers with tons of drama in the paddock. From big music acts back once again to a marquee race on Sunday, there’s no reason to doubt that this year’s event will be as wild and chaotic as last.

“It’s an awesome market for INDYCAR, and I wish it came sooner,” said Colton Herta. “It’s so much fun to be downtown right there in the heart of Nashville, and an awesome track with its unique challenges compared to a lot of the street courses that we go to.”

Last year was a party crowd. This year, appears to be no different.

“I’m actually staying a little bit after because last year I had a sim day Monday morning so I had to fly out that night, and I really didn’t get any time to explore Nashville,” Herta said. “I had never been there before. This time I’ll do it properly and I’ll get to go see everything, hopefully.”

Conor Daly plans to stay behind too.

“Without a doubt everyone is going to be worn out by post-Nashville, and Nashville, most people are going to be worn out more from hangovers after that race than anything else because that’s just like a fun week,” Daly said. “But it’s a perfect time for a vacation week afterwards.”

Between flying cars that rebounded to win, to drama and chaotic racing, the inaugural race that goes over a bridge and around the Tennessee Titans stadium produced some pulse pounding action. This year’s is bound to follow suit.

Last week in Indy you had Alexander Rossi ending a 49 race winless drought, Alex Palou remaining firm that he’ll be McLaren Racing in some capacity in 2023, Pato O’Ward taking a dig at his potential future teammate while praising one that may be getting away and witnessing his for sure future teammate winning for the first time in 1,133 days.

Will Power got into O’Ward on the opening lap and rebounded to finish 3rd still after falling to 16th in wake of that contact. Points leader Marcus Ericsson started last and finished 11th which meant he no longer held that distinction. Power takes it away but was beaten by a 21 year old Danish rookie on track for the 2nd podium spot.

That’s just last weekend. This season has been this way every week.

Scott Dixon has 12 top 10’s in 13 races but enters Sunday’s Music City Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) 38 points behind Power for the top spot in points. Alex Palou is tied for the 2nd most top 10’s accumulated this season but he’s 6th in the standings (-52).

Their teammate in Ericsson also has 12 top 10’s scored but among those 10 is a win in the double points Indianapolis 500 and 3 podiums. With Palou having just 1 top 5 in the last 9 races run on the season and Ericsson entering Nashville as the defending race winner, his confidence is much higher.

However, Palou has a top 6 in all 4 street races in 2022. Does the legal drama surrounding him keep this slide going?

Dixon has 2 straight podiums on street courses while Ericsson has been consistent with 3 top 10’s in 4 tries but no result being better than 5th.

Team Penske could end up being the ones to beat.

Can Team Penske rebound this weekend in Nashville? Photo Credit: IndyCar Media Site

Penske has certainly upped their game on street course events this season in general. A year after being winless in 5 starts on them, they’ve since gone 3-for-4 with victories at St. Pete (Scott McLaughlin), Long Beach (Josef Newgarden) and Belle Isle (Will Power). Now, can they end the year 4-for-5?

They were off their game in Nashville last season finishing 10th (Newgarden), 14th (Will Power), 21st (Simon Pagenaud) and 22nd (Scott McLaughlin).

They had 3 of the 4 cars in the 2nd round of qualifying but none made it to the Fast 6. Newgarden was going to but he crashed on his final lap of qualifying in the second round which cost him his fastest laps and results in a 12th place starting position for Sunday’s race.

Power was eighth in the first practice while McLaughlin, Pagenaud and Newgarden were ninth, 10th and 12th respectively. On Saturday, they went 10th (McLaughlin), 11th (Pagenaud), 14th (Power) and 18th (Newgarden) respectively.

Qualifying and the race were the same. Now though, they seem vastly improved. Can they continue that on?

They need to as this could be the way forward to a title. They put all 3 cars in the top 5 last Saturday in Indy. Power now leads the points over Ericsson by 9. Newgarden is 32 points back in 3rd. McLaughlin is 7th (-81).

With Palou struggling, Ericsson being a top 10 factor but not necessarily a top 5 threat and AMSP struggling on these tracks this year, the stage is set for the Penske trio to win Sunday’s race and pull away from the field.

But remember this is a title fight. As the races dwindle off the calendar as the weeks go on this year, the intensity of these races rises to the occasion. Nashville will once again do so on Sunday for this elbows out street fight.

That could favor RLL. They had improved pace in Toronto and with this being another street course, I expect that Toronto performance to translate well over to here. Graham Rahal finished 4th in Toronto. He was 7th last weekend and has 3 top 10’s in his last 4 starts on the year. He’s improved 3 spots in points (15th to 12th) in the process.

Christian Lundgaard enters off of a podium and holds the rookie of the year standings lead. He’s had 5 top 11 finishes in his last 6 races on the year after having just 2 in the first 7. If they can get out of the first round of qualifying on Saturday, there’s no reason to believe they can’t get at least one car in the top 5 on Sunday.

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