NTT IndyCar Series Recap: Big Machine Music City Grand Prixby Jack Gaffney August 9, 2021 0 comments
After a break lasting over a month, the IndyCar series made its triumphant return. Doing so with its most anticipated race of the year, save for the Indianapolis 500, on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee. A crowd of over 50,000 people packed in to see racings top squad of squirrel exterminators duke it out on a day in the high 90s. What is also red hot is this year’s IndyCar points race. Second-year driver Alex Palou entered Sunday 39 points up on fellow sophomore driver Pato O’Ward, with Scott Dixon in tow in third place. With this being the sixth to last race, every lap, pass and win matters that much more.
More on IndyCar drivers massacring wild squirrels here.
Pre Race Headlines
With over a month in between Mid-Ohio and Nashville, a lot happened regarding both 2021 and 2022. Firstly would be defending Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves coming back to IndyCar full time in 2022. Doing so with the Meyer-Shank team he won the race with this May. This will be the first time “Spiderman” has run the full IndyCar tilt since 2017 where he finished fourth in points.
Next on the docket is the top expected free agent of this offseason, Romain Grosjean. The former F1 veteran has taken to the American way of life tremendously since making it here. Taking in the sights, collecting fire station shirts, attending Monster Truck Throwdown events, just typical American things.
His strong road course only IndyCar debut has made him a hot commodity among potential suitors. According to Marshall Pruett of Racer, the feeling is that he is “a lock” to Andretti Autosport in 2022 in the 28 car. This would put Ryan Hunter Reay‘s IndyCar future in doubt if that is the case. In any case, Grosjean in even better equipment is a good thing for the sport.
The final piece of news happened just yesterday, McLaren is taking a 75 percent majority stake in Arrow McLaren Racing. A great piece of news for the European car manufacturer, who has been a strategic partner of the team for a few years now. Also a great sign for the sport of IndyCar that McLaren is willing to make this level of commitment to be a key player for the long term.
Almost immediately, Dalton Kellet brought out a yellow via stalling his number four car at the start/finish line. He then stalled the car again trying to pull it off. The field was far from out of the woods after this. Marcus Ericsson, on the ensuing restart, ran right over the top of Sebastian Bourdais‘ car to bring out another caution. The stewards waited longer than normal to throw out the caution which caused some confusion as well. However, if they threw it out quickly, there would have likely been multiple more incidents in the process. This would end Bourdias’ day, Ericsson meanwhile was good to go after a front wing change.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) August 8, 2021
Early/Mid Race Run, With an Extra Side of Chaos
Once the field got back to green, pole winner Colton Herta who had led every lap beforehand continued to do so here. Behind him were Alexander Rossi, Dixon, and Grosjean, with Felix Rosenqvist manning the final spot in the top five. Palou, the series points leader at this point was in ninth but would get a chance to reset shortly after. As Australia’s Scott McLaughlin got spun and stalled in the corner after the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge in a bad spot. The culprit was one Ed Jones in the No. 18 car.
REPLAY: Yellow flag is out after this incident involving @smclaughlin93.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) August 8, 2021
A bulk of drivers took this opportunity to head down pit road for tires and fuel, McLaughlin, Palou, and hometown hero Josef Newgarden among them. However, a wise man once said, “cautions breed cautions” and this would be yet another case and then some. A multi-car pileup coming to green would end up resulting in a red flag. Drivers involved included Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud, and about a half dozen others. Johnson under this red flag would be disqualified for unapproved adjustments under red. A frustrating day, weekend, and year roll on for the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. After that penalty was handed out, the field began rolling again under yellow.
Red, Yellow, Green, and Even More Yellow
The green flag came back out on lap 24 with Herta still at the point, but his time out front was coming to an end. After pitting, Herta would lose the lead, however, would come back out in fourth. Herta was furious over the radio that he should have been the leader coming out of the pits. It was clear on the replay that his assumption was not accurate. Ericsson who had pitted earlier inherited the lead with Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe in tow. Those two would fall into the clutches of Herta and Rossi after few laps, then Herta proceeded to run down Ericsson in almost no time at all.
Yet another caution came out right after the halfway point, as Will Power punted his teammate McLaughlin coming to lap 42. This forced Ericsson to come down pit road, however, he was likely to come down soon anyway. It most likely will not be a fun Monday meeting for Power at Penske HQ, as he wrecked two teammates in the same race to this point. But then things got even weirder. There was a mysterious fluid spill on track, ironically enough next to some track signs of Cutwater spirits. You cannot script this kind of stuff, eat your heart of Martin Scorsese.
There were two distinct strategies were formed on the ensuing stops. Herta and Newgarden led those who did not come in. While those that did included Ericsson, Rossi, Dixon, Rosenqvist, and Palou. Dixon in a bold move appeared to only do a splash and go stop. While it looks like a bizarre move, he only had four green flag laps on the tire he had on, now the best fuel saver in the business gained fuel with minimal track losses. O’Ward and Grosjean in sixth and fifth still needed an extra stop.
Herta had a restart for the ages and immediately built a two-second gap on Newgarden. Unfortunately, he could not do anything with it as O’Ward and Rossi came together on the other side of the bridge and the former stalled the car, bringing out yet another yellow. Under a commercial, both Herta and Newgarden came in to pit, giving the lead to Grosjean, who still needed to pit. Meanwhile, his teammate Cody Ware, who tried his best to not bring out a caution, did so via a stall after a spin. Grosjean then made his stop under the ensuing yellow.
Herta’s mad dash back to the front would take him to the rear bumper of Dixon in second, and the outran him into the braking zone off the second bridge run. With around 16 to go, the battle for the win between Ericsson and Herta was very much on. Both drivers opened up a four-second gap over Dixon in third. Ericsson’s car at this point in the race was phenomenal on corner exit, while Herta seemed loose at times in the same regard.
Herta then locked up the tires big time coming off the second bridge run with 12 to go, which opened things up big time for Ericsson. Herta’s team, and his father Brian, told him to push it due to fuel concerns for Ericsson, and he took the advice. A gap that ballooned up to a second and a half got sliced by a third with six to go. However, he threw it away coming to five to go, taking a hard hit where he locked it up just a few laps prior. A devastating result for the best car and driver all weekend long. The incident resulted in a red flag with just laps remaining.
Airborne to the Win
On the unofficial Green-White-Checkered attempt, Ericsson and Dixon pulled away from Hinchcliffe in third quickly. Despite an initial run by Dixon, the Swed was able to hold on to get the first-ever IndyCar win on the streets of Nashville. A great year for the driver who had not found victory lane anywhere in almost a decade before this year, now with two IndyCar wins. He now also moves into a three-way tie for the series lead in wins with Palou and O’Ward. Dixon and Hinchcliffe would hold their spots on the podium with Hunter-Reay in fourth.
"It just shows in INDYCAR anything can happen."
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) August 9, 2021
Championship Update and Nashville Feedback
Despite a quiet day, Palou managed to increase his points lead to second place from 39 to 42 points. The change is that Dixon has taken second away from O’Ward who now sits 48 points back in third. The next pair of drivers in fourth and fifth are Newgarden who is 75 points back, and Ericsson 79 back. Of the five remaining races, the only oval left on the schedule is Gateway on the outskirts of St. Louis. The four road courses are Indianapolis next weekend, Portland, Laguna Seca, and the streets of Long Beach, California.
While the first-ever Music City GP had its fair share of bumps, Nashville is most certainly a market that should be a new schedule mainstay. Some future suggestions would be to widen out the track to prevent some of the track clog-ups that happened. Secondly would be to find a new start-finish area for mainly the same reasons. Finally adding in some legit lights to open up night racing as a possibility. A night race with Broadway in the background would be nothing short of incredible. Outside of that, hopefully, Nashville is here to stay.
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
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