Nashville going to see a mix of mindsets which makes Sundays Music City Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, IndyCar Radio Network) difficult to win

Will Power has the points lead. He took it back from Marcus Ericsson last weekend in Indy. Power held the top spot after a 3rd place finish in May’s GMR Grand Prix. Ericsson took it away when he won the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Power won a week later in Belle Isle and took it back. Then Ericsson fought his way back into the top spot in Road America and had held onto it ever since.

Until last Saturday…

Power once again finished 3rd on the IMS road course and once again, leaves with the points lead. Now, can he hold onto it?

He starts 8th.

“It’s not necessarily the long game, it’s just that sort of attitude switch where you know these races are long, the season is long, and you’ve got to make the most of every situation, even if you’re fighting for like 12th,” he says. “If that’s your day to finish 12th, well, finish 12th, not 24th.

“Yeah, it’s certainly working very well.”

He now has 7 podiums in 13 races run this year including 10 top 5’s.

“Yeah, I mean, to this point we’ve had a fantastic year, obviously leading the points right now. Just got to keep doing what I’m doing. I know the game so well, been in it so long. We have great potential to win the championship, but there’s four other guys that also do. It’s going to be hard fought to the end.

“I’m enjoying it. I really am. I’m loving the racing. It’s a privilege to feel nervous before a race because there’s going to be a time that you don’t get to do that for decades. Some people never get to do that.”

Ericsson may have lost the points lead, but he’s still only 9 points out heading to a place at Nashville to where he won at just last year. He had a damage control day at Indy to where he started last but still finished 11th. He may need to do that again from 18th now on Sunday.

Power leads the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship with four races to go for the second time in his INDYCAR SERIES career. Power also led the championship with four races to go in 2010 but did not win the title. Power has led the point standings after three of the 13 races this season.

Since 2008 when INDYCAR SERIES racing unified under the NTT INDYCAR SERIES banner, the eventual series champion has won the 14th race of the season four times. The most recent occurrence was 2021 when Alex Palou won at Portland. Other drivers to win the 14th race of their championship season were Ryan Hunter-Reay (2012), Dario Franchitti (2009 and 2010) and Scott Dixon (2008).

Key championship point statistic: Since 2008, the largest deficit overcome by the eventual champion was 59 points by Dario Franchitti in 2010, while Scott Dixon overcame Juan Pablo Montoya’s 54-point lead in 2015. The top six drivers in the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship standings are separated by 52 points.

Point differential: The nine points that separate Will Power and Marcus Ericsson is the third-closest point margin since 2008. Before this season, the average lead with four races to go since 2008 was 37.6 points.

CHAMPIONSHIP WITH 4 TO GO

YEARLEADERSECOND LEADCHAMPION
2008Scott DixonHelio Castroneves65Scott Dixon
2009Scott DixonRyan Briscoe3Dario Franchitti (-20)
2010Will PowerDario Franchitti59Dario Franchitti
2011Dario FranchittiWill Power47Dario Franchitti
2012Ryan Hunter-ReayHelio Castroneves23Ryan Hunter-Reay
2013Helio CastronevesScott Dixon39Scott Dixon
2014Helio CastronevesWill Power13Will Power
2015Juan Pablo MontoyaScott Dixon54Scott Dixon
2016Simon PagenaudWill Power58Simon Pagenaud
2017Josef NewgardenHelio Castroneves7Josef Newgarden
2018Scott DixonAlexander Rossi46Scott Dixon
2019Josef NewgardenAlexander Rossi16Josef Newgarden
2020Scott DixonJosef Newgarden76Scott Dixon
2021Alex PalouPato O’Ward21Alex Palou
2022Will PowerMarcus Ericsson9?

“I think it was a good day for us,” Ericsson said after taking off his Indy 500 themed helmet. “Obviously it was damage limitation after what happened to us yesterday.”

However, when starting last and to come up to 11th, that’s a good day even with going off strategy early.

“A top 10 was our goal, we almost got there and I think we would without that yellow,” he said. “It was so badly timed for us after the long first stint on the blacks. We were in a really good spot for the rest of the race, and we had all the new reds so we could run shorter for the rest of the race.

“That yellow just neutralized the whole race. I think we could’ve been seventh or eighth without that. But P11 is still good from where we started.”

Pato O’Ward battles Alex Palou is last years race at Nashville – Photo Credit: IndyCar Media Site

As far as does he change his approach after losing the points lead?

“It doesn’t really change to be honest. I would’ve liked to keep the lead, but we’re still close to Will and we go to Nashville where we won last year.

“We’re still in the mix, we still have a good shot to win this thing in Laguna.”

Power never counts Ericsson out no matter where he starts.

 “He’s not the best qualifier, but he’s probably the best racer in the series, in my opinion. Just over the years watching him race, he’s one of the toughest guys. Like he’s very, very good at starting back there and making his way all the way to the front.

“Yeah, try to get some points on him. He’s no joke. He’s tough to beat.”

He’s qualified outside the top 10 8 times already this season. 5 of those previous 7 though he had a top 10 finish on Sunday a day later and 1 being in 11th.

“I think I probably need to win at least one more race,” Ericsson said. “That’s sort of my mindset. But at the same time, I think we have the best consistency in the field so we just need to keep doing that. If we keep being consistent, inside the top 10, even since the month of May I think we’ve been in the top eight every race.

“We need to be there all the time, then we have some strong tracks coming up, try and grab a win or two would be nice to try and close up the championship.

“But it’s going to be tough. We just need to maximize every weekend, yeah. That’s the name of the game, right?”

Power agrees that he too has to find a win again this season as well. In saying that, he also feels that if he can keep showing up and finishing to where he has, a win will eventually come. 

“Yeah, just doing what I’ve been doing. Simple as that,” he says. “We’ve been executing, not really doing anything special. Get on top of the qualifying thing because we cannot have what we had in Toronto. Definitely got the pace.

“Yeah, putting it together

Scott Dixon is 4th in points still as he qualified 20th and did Scott Dixon things last Saturday afternoon at Indy. He finished 8th for his 11th top 10 on the IMS road course in his last 12 tries. He qualified 16th in this race last year and finished 9th. He qualified 12th and 15th respectively in the 2 Harvest Grand Prix races here and was 9th and 8th in those races too.

He’s doing what he needs to do and only lost 4 points last weekend in the process to score his series leading 12th top 10 finish in 13 races this year.

“With how close the competition is and how many times we’ve run on this track, we shouldn’t have had the fumble we did in qualifying because starting 20th makes it almost impossible,” said Dixon.

“But a good day for the team, it’s definitely a difficult track for us in general. But we’re still only 38 points back and a good string of tracks coming up for us.”

These 3 are points racing. They have to think bigger picture. So does Josef Newgarden. The rest?

Swing for the fences.

Pato O’Ward doesn’t want a top 5. He wants a win. Nothing less will work if he wants to win a championship.

“Conservative isn’t going to cut it,” he says. He’s been 4th in points. He’s been 3rd. He wants to win.

“I feel like this year, whether you start — I mean, the worst crash last year, or I guess the worst crash that could continue, won last year,” said Pato O’Ward. “I guess it doesn’t really matter where you start, thinking of what the history has been here.

“It’s a good place to start (5th). There’s just going to be I think a lot of yellows. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. I don’t think we’re going to go full green. I just don’t see that happening with how hot it’s getting inside the cars, with how long the races are, with how hot it’s going to be. People are going to get tired, touch a wall here or there. There’s going to be mishaps for sure.

“You can be pole, you can be second or third. We’re starting in the first three rows. A yellow falls not in your favor, you’re going straight to the back.

“I think tomorrow it’s going to be all about nailing and having some Lady Luck with the strategy because I don’t think it’s going to matter where you start. I think someone with a good car in the back, they nail on a good yellow, they’re going to go straight to the front and they’re going to stay there.”

Scott McLaughlin whos nearly 90 points himself out agrees. He’s hit his goals. He won two races. The top goal is to still earn a championship but the realistic one is a top 5 in points at seasons end.

“Yeah, I don’t think we need to be silly,” he told me on if he can swing for the fences now to make up that deficit. “Our ultimate goal, we’d like to be in the top five of the championship. To win the championship would be an absolute bonus, absolutely. We’ll literally do the best thing we can, at the same time doing what we need to do for the team as well.

“We’re focused on just getting the most out of it. If we need to take a risk here or there, we’re in a position that we’re able to do that. So it’s a little bit less I guess consequence if something does happen for us.

“Yeah, you got to control that risk versus reward. But we definitely look at it now where maybe we can have a risk here or there.

“We can risk a little more if we need. We’re in a position 81 points off, we have nothing to lose. One bad race, we’re sort of out of it. We have to go after it, see what we’ve got.

“Yeah, I’d love to be in the top five, love to win the championship. But a top five would be a big tick in the box.

“It’s going to be hard to beat the front five. They’re very strong and they’re racing up the front every week, not making mistakes. That’s ultimately what we need to make sure we do on car 3.

“You’re past the point of relying on luck right now. Wins are going to do it. Wins are going to separate you from all of us. Either the wins are going to get back into contention, and we saw at that Mid-Ohio when I won, 10th to sixth, I was right there. Things can change pretty quickly.

“I fully believe if we got on a roll, potentially got top threes for the rest of the year, you never know where that puts you. That’s a lot of points. That’s just our goal.”H

He starts from the pole.

Colton Herta is also after a top 5 in points. He’s 100 points out. However, he’s working to build towards 2023 and hope to score some more wins in the process.

“I mean, at this point, yeah, because we’re not — realistically we’re not going to win the championship,” Herta told me via a zoom call on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s too far out of reach. Maybe if we have an amazing string of the rest of the races we can maybe creep into the top 5, but that would be a pretty big ask.

“I’ll just kind of use the end of this season to focus on the next season and kind of butt through it.

“Just try to get those top 5s every single race. Hopefully we’ve got some good races coming up for us. St. Louis last year we were leading when we had a hashed off brake; Nashville, that went — I don’t want to talk about that one, but we were fast there; and Laguna, we’ve won two times there in the last year. We’ve got really good races coming up for us, we just need to maximize what we can do on those weekends.”

He feels like this weekend in Nashville of all places is a great time to get a win though. He’s shined on street courses and feels like Andretti always has good cars for these types of tracks as well. 

“I think we have a great car for it,” Herta said. “The damping thing is so important at every track we go to, especially the ones that are so bumpy, and I think we have a great damping program.

“Yeah, it just seems to work. At all the street circuits we go to, we seem to have a phenomenal car to drive. Hopefully this kind of continues. We had a great car last year, but you never know what you’re going to get when you come back to a street circuit and there’s some changes to the track. I’m hoping it’s as close to what it was last year this year, and we should be in good shape.”

It’s just the fact that you have to take the bad luck out of the equation though as well.

Herta has told me multiple times over the years that he wants more podiums. He had 2 in 2020 but upped that to 5 last year. Races like Nashville, and Gateway (mechanical failure late in the race while leading), Mid-Ohio (slow pit stops), Belle Isle (falling from podium to 4th) is what kept him from seriously contending from a title. 

This year it’s been more of the same. He has just 2 podiums again. 3 of his 4 years in this sport he’s had 2 podiums in each season. He surely won’t stay there this year right?

He’s just looking for a solid race on Sunday. He’s qualified 9th or better in 6 of the last 7 races. He’s led 41 laps in the last 5 races. In those same 5 starts too, he has just 1 top 10 finish and 4 of the 5 being 12th or worse. It’s not like he’s had slow race cars. 

That’s what makes this frustrating and easier in a sense that frustrating in a way that it’s all bad luck and self inflicted but easier to get past because he does have equipment capable of winning. 

Last week his teammate won so Andretti has cars able to win still. 

“The most important thing is we’ve had speed pretty much everywhere we’ve gone,” he says. “I think the Indy 500 was kind of the outlier where we weren’t great, qualified 25th, and weren’t that great in the race.

“I think everywhere else I’ve been very comfortable with the car and very confident, but yeah, for one reason or another, we just can’t get a roll going. I thought after Toronto we would get it going, then we had an issue in Iowa. We weren’t really incredibly fast in Iowa anyway. I think we still could have finished in the top 10.

“Then obviously come to Indy and leading the race and that happens.”

Is teammate Alexander Rossi expects to shine everywhere minus Gateway. Felix Rosenqvist notes that they’ve had the speed just can’t put it all together. But they’re getting closer.

Rosenqvist has shown flashes. You can almost break his brief tenure with Arrow McLaren SP into two parts. Prior to the summer break last year and past. 

Prior?

0 top 12 starts. 0 top 10 finishes. 14 laps led in 8 races. 

After?

14 top 10 starts, 11 top 10 finishes in 19 races. 

I’m not sure if Rosenqvist is a Blink 182 fan but he makes reference in a hit song that they had in to what changed this program of his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet around. 

“Yeah, I mean, I think it’s details, as always, in racing. There’s not one major thing that is like changing everything. It’s all the small things,” said Rosenqvist.

“I think for sure, I’ve been on my A game the last seven, eight races. I think the pit crew has been on their A game. I think the engineering team has really figured out, kind of simplified our program a little bit. Seems like we have a little bit more similar car to all the street circuits we go to, to all the road courses, like instead of having like 12 different cars we have four different cars now, and that strategy seems to have really helped us in our program.

“I think last year was a whole other animal with different difficulties as an organization. I think I for sure struggled with the car last year. I wasn’t confident in the car.

“But it was a whole other bunch of things going on that I think are just sort of out now. But I think the drivability thing has probably been the main key for me. If you look back at last year, there was a couple of races where we were quick, but over a season we weren’t strong. Only on the ovals pretty much.

“Now I just feel like I can get the most out of the car like every track we go to, if it’s an oval or a street course or road course, and I feel like that’s a bigger thing for me. But together with a bunch of other things that are just working a lot better from a team standpoint.

“Yeah, it’s just — I think the team is really vibing well. We’re a young team still. There’s a lot of new things happening in McLaren and Arrow McLaren SP every day, and I feel like everything is kind of gelling a bit more every weekend, and yeah, the results are following that trend. It’s a good place to be right now.”

The next progression though for Rosenqvist is just that, a win with AMSP. He’s had fast cars and while he’s been in the top 10 more now than before, it’s all about turning those top 10’s into top 5’s and podiums. 

Out of those 11 top 10’s in the last 19 starts?

2 top 5’s. 

What’s lacking?

He started on the pole but had a bad pit sequence while running in the top 3 which later had a mechanical failure in Texas. He finished 21st. Strategy plays took him out of a top 5 at both Long Beach and Barber and dropped him to 11th and 16th respectively. Rain falling during the GMR Grand Prix took him out of a potential top 5 or even a podium and relegated him to 6th. A team penalty for sending him out in front of another car on pit lane in qualifying in Belle Isle dropped him to last in the starting lineup. He’d still get up to 10th. Mid-Ohio he had an engine problem while running in the top 5. He crashed in Race 1 at Iowa and had a brake problem at Indy out of his control to drop him from first to 9th. 

“I don’t think we’ve been very consistent,” he says. “We’re still having a lot of issues. Like Indy GP, Iowa, Mid-Ohio, we had all those races actually had mechanical issues that cost us a lot of points. I wouldn’t sit here and say that we’re like on a massive roll because we’re still not winning races.

“But yeah, the performance is good. We’re there pace-wise every weekend pretty much since Indy GP, the first one. Oval, street course, road course. So I think that’s obviously a massive step.

“As I said before, it’s all like details. I definitely feel like I’m comfortable with the car. I’m in a good rhythm with the car. Just I feel confident to throw down a lap whenever. I feel like as a team we’re working better and better together. We’re starting to understand a lot of things.

“I think as a two-car team, it’s been a lot of, like, research and development done during the weekends where mainly you kind of want to focus on driving, but we’ve been more focused on trying different setups and stuff, and now we’re kind of getting to a point we have so much data from trying a bunch of things that we can go into weekends — like Indy GP, for example, we went in and we knew exactly where we wanted to be instead of going into like experimental mode in practice.

“I feel like that’s going to be more the case going forward now. It’s going to be more and more — like we’re going in with more and more confidence on the engineering side into the weekends, and hopefully we’ll see better — keep doing better and better results.”

4 guys points racing. 2 more guys swinging for the fences. 3 others swinging for the fences. That should make the rest of the season phenomenal.

2 comments

Leave a Reply to Music City Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) betting advise – Race Review Online Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s