A look back on the Music City Grand Prix

NASHVILLE, Tenn — Scott Dixon continues doing Scott Dixon things. So does the streets of Nashville. The race weekend just wrapped up it’s 2nd year of existence and both races were won by a driver coming from the back after an early race mishap. Marcus Ericsson rallied from behind airborne after an early race crash to win the inaugural event in Aug. 2021. A year later, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate of Dixon was collected in an early race crash on Sunday too. The 53 time victor in the NTT INDYCAR Series had to pit multiple times for repairs, restarted outside the top 20 and later wound up in victory lane in dramatic fashion.

The starting spots of both winners were 18th and 14th. Dixon pit 7 times on Sunday and still landed in victory lane.

These aren’t the only success stories either.

Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi rebounded from early race troubles to even falling a lap down to still finish in the top 5. All this happened while the meat of the Dixon and Herta/Rossi sandwich saw pole sitter Scott McLaughlin finish runner-up with Row 2 starter Alex Palou leading the most laps in 3rd.

We also saw some drama between 3 separate incidents. Rookies David Malukas and Kyle Kirkwood crashed on Lap 65. Neither were particular happy with one another as each were battling for spots well within the top 10 at that moment and heading towards potential top 5 days. On Lap 34, Takuma Sato was pissed at Devlin DeFrancesco for the move DeFrancesco made on him in Turn 10. Sato was visibly upset at DeFrancesco and tried to confront him.

Then on Lap 76, Josef Newgarden squeezed Romain Grosjean for position on the restart with 4 to go. Grosjean got into the Turn 9 wall as a result and was extremely frustrated with the move Newgarden made.

Newgarden didn’t want to hear any of it post race. Other drivers took to social media in defense of Newgarden.

It was a capper of hurt feelings, carnage, big comebacks and tons of chaos in 80 action packed laps.

Colton Herta went from damage early to a top 5 late at Nashville. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

That’s the nature of this track. It’s like a street course version of Daytona or Talladega. 10 cars were listed as DNF due to “contact” but more like upwards of 14 or more cars collected damage at some point during the race. A season low 15 cars saw the checkered flag.

Last year’s race saw 9 cautions for 33 laps. This one was one less yellow (8) but more caution laps (36). Out of the 160 combined race laps turned, 43% of them were under caution periods with 38% of the cars being loaded back on the haulers early after crashes.

“Other than that, it’s not terrible to have a crazy race every now and again,” notes Herta. “And this might be INDYCAR, some of the races are snoozers and some of them are really amazing, and some of them are amazing for this reason, because there’s cars going off all the time, you never know who is going to win.”

Sloppy? Sure. Fun. Absolutely. The drivers liked it and hope the fans did too.

“Obviously, there was a lot of cautions and the red flag, and it’s not ideal, but I don’t know from a fan standpoint,” said Palou.

“As long as they had fun watching it, it’s one of those things that I think the atmosphere here in Nashville and the race event itself, it’s amazing. So as long as the fans are happy, I think it’s good if we continue here.”

Nashville is a race to where you need luck to win. Pure speed doesn’t necessarily win here. Both winners prove that. But you also can pass if you have a good car too though. 5 of the top 6 finishers rebounded from being outside the top 10 to finish there.

“It’s fun to drive. It’s challenging,” Herta said of the track. “It’s really challenging. It’s hard enough on a street course to have straight-line braking for a hairpin or really still corner. When you are coming in 180, and you have braking that’s turning away from the corner, like turn four and turn nine are, it is really challenging because you unload that right front tire, so it’s really easy to lock and then go into the wall or go into the runoff.

“So it is a lot of challenging parts to this track that I do enjoy, yeah.”

You could tell McLaughlin and Herta had the fastest cars. Palou was probably 3rd best with Dixon a close 4th.

“I was just pissed off, so I just dropped the hammer,” McLaughlin said after rallying from 16th to 2nd in the final stint. “I felt like the seas parted, man, on the restart, and I passed all these cars. Jeez, I was quickly in 8th, and then there was another restart, and I passed two more, and another restart, passed a couple of more. Crap, we could have a go here. Passed one guy on the last one, and I’m, like, come on, Scotty, let’s go.

“Honestly, that was probably, even though it didn’t work out in my favor, one of the most fun races of my career in one of the best race cars I’ve ever had. The car was so good. I had so much fun.”

Dixon was mad on Saturday that he never got clean laps in qualifying. He said his car was better than 14th to where he qualified and showed his potential in the morning warmup by being fastest. He was able to still win.

3 of the top 4 in points qualified outside of the Fast 6. 3 of the top 5 in points finished outside the top 10.

Will Power battled a gear box issue for most of the day. Marcus Ericsson was bouncing between 7th to 11th for most of the race before having troubles late relegating him to finishing 14th, three spots behind Power. Pato O’Ward crashed early and finished 24th. With Dixon, McLaughlin and Palou sharing the podium and Newgarden rebounding to finish 6th, the standings tighten even more heading to the off week.

O’Ward falls from 5th to 7th in points too leaving the entire top 6 between Penske and Ganassi drivers. These teams have combined to take 13 of the last 14 series titles including 9 straight. It will take a valiant effort for O’Ward to break that trend from this far back.

The other thing is, the Andretti cars are heating up too. To get 2 cars in the top 5 and if not for Grosjean’s wreck it would have been 3 of the 4 in the top 6. They should have finished 1-2 last week in Indy if not for Herta’s mid race troubles.

The speed is there and after Gateway we’re heading to places that suit Herta, Rossi and Grosjean well. They may be too far out to win a championship but not too far to make some noise in taking spots among those up front who are fighting for the title.

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