5 things I’m watching for Sundays Music City Grand Prix

NASHVILLE, Tenn — Colton Herta dominated here last year. He’s not so much this time around. Marcus Ericsson starts 18th. The same spot he won from last year. 4 of the top 7 in points are starting in the Fast 6, but not 3 of the top 4.

We’re set up for a wild 2nd edition of the Music City Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, IndyCar Radio Network).

McLaughlin’s race?

He was quickest in Saturday‘s practice. He won the pole. He won a street race earlier this season in St. Pete.

However, that’s the only instance a pole winner won a race this season too.

Can McLaughlin buck that trend?

Penske has produced fast street course cars this season with taking 3 wins in 4 starts on them and landing all 3 cars in the top 8 of Sundays starting lineup.

Rookies

Christian Lundgaard is finding his groove now. A week after he finished runner-up last Saturday on the Indy road course, he’ll start 3rd in Sundays Music City Grand Prix. Lundgaard was also quickest on Friday and has 5 top 11 results in the last 6 races on the year. He had just 2 in the first 7.

David Malukas is also right there. He was 3rd in Fridays practice and starts 7th.


Points

4 of the top 7 in the NTT INDYCAR Series points standings entering the weekend made the Fast 6. However, it wasn’t the top 2 in points though and 3 of the top 4 at that were out by the end of the 2nd round.

Will Power was penalized his fastest laps and will start 8th. Marcus Ericsson will come from 18th. Luckily for him, he won from there last year and it looks like this year can be won from anywhere again. 

Scott Dixon enters 4th in points and starts 14th. They’re all looking up at 7th in points McLaughlin and 6th in points Palou who start 1st and 4th respectively. 5th in points in Pato O’Ward rolls off 5th while 3rd in points Josef Newgarden starts 6th.


Difficult Race

Nashville isn’t your typical street courses. Yes, it has similar characteristics but this track is almost like the Daytona and Talladega of the INDYCAR schedule. Last year saw 9 cautions for 33 laps. This weekend has already been messy. 

That’s why strategy is going to play a role into Sunday’s race because cautions could come in spurts and for no rhyme or reason. It’s going to come down to a little luck honestly too.

“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.”

There’s that factor. There’s also the factor of the heat as well. It’s been upper 80s to low 90s this weekend. It’s not just the heat, but it’s also the humidity to which is making life dreadful inside of these cars for these drivers.

Also, both Pato O’Ward and Scott McLaughlin aren’t electing to use cool suits either. While the scoop is now mandated, fatigue is going to have a hand in how this race plays out too.

“Yeah, we don’t have them,” O’Ward said of the cool suits. “It’s horrible in the car. It’s unbearable. Like, I think this is probably going to be the worst race. Yeah, I cannot explain how horrendous it is inside of the car.

“Like tomorrow they’ll probably mandate the roof scoops. But, yeah, I mean, every braking zone, I’m having to clear my sweat because there’s no ventilation in the car. Every braking zone, even with me trying to clear it out, I’m still like splatting sweat all over my visor. It’s horrible.”

McLaughlin agreed. He says he doesn’t wear a cool suit because he’s afraid of what happens when it fails so why risk it.

“It’s pretty warm,” said the pole sitter. “The biggest problem is the humidity, I think. When you slow down and come into the pits, the heat soak just builds so quickly.

“But I’m sort of like ever since my Super Car days have always been a guy that doesn’t wear a cool suit because I think it’s worse if you have one fail. It’s just boiling water rolling around your body.

“I’m actually okay with running the top duct and the helmet fan, or the helmet air. But it’s going to be a hot race. Like Pato said, it’s going to be the hottest race that we’ve had. Hopefully with all the training all season is going to set us up well for that and we’ll be all right.”

Then you have the threat of rain too. 

“Yeah, look, no doubt it’s going to be a pretty crazy race,” said pole sitter Scott McLaughlin. “Last year’s was pretty long in bone-dry conditions. I’m sure with a little bit of rain it’s going to be crazy.

“A lot of painted lines in the middle of apexes here on tight corners with no room for error. I sort of looked at that before. I thought we might have had a bit of wet then. I was trying to figure out where the lines were and whatnot.

“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. We’ll see what happens during the race.”

Ganassi/Andretti Cars Largely Struggle

Yes Alex Palou and Romain Grosjean made the Fast 6. But each also are the only drivers on their respective teams to make it out of the first round of qualifying too. Among the bottom 14 starters for Sunday’s race, 6 belong to Andretti Autosport or Chip Ganassi Racing. 

Andretti saw Colton Herta and Devlin DeFrancesco bring out reds in the first group of the opening round which cost a lot of drivers times. One was their other teammate Alexander Rossi. 

Ganassi had 3 drivers in the 2nd group and all struggled to find speed. Scott Dixon starts 14th, Marcus Ericsson in 18th and Jimmie Johnson 26th. 

For Herta, this is a disaster weekend after being quickest in literally every session last year. He won the pole too and led the most laps but crashed out while trying to charge for the win. He was only 8th in both practice sessions and starts 23rd.

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