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Monday, September 26, 2022
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BARNES: Five Takeaways from the Big Machine Music City GP

 

Scott Dixon at Nashville
Scott Dixon rebounded from early issues and numerous pit stops to capture victory in Nashville. Image courtesy of James Black / Penske Entertainment

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Well, this past weekend’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix was certainly something. For the second consecutive year, the NTT IndyCar Series’ race on the Streets of Nashville was full of carnage and mayhem but in the end, it Scott Dixon rolling to his 53rd career victory to move into sole position of second on the all-time wins list.

Without further delay, let’s crack into the 14th round of the 2022 season.

  1. Cautions, Cautions & More Cautions

This has become the theme for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix despite only having two events in its history. This year, there was eight cautions that resulted in 36 of 80 laps being run under caution. Additionally, 11 of 26 entrants failed to finish as contact played a deciding factor for each of them.

The tally for the event’s two-race history is as follows: 17 cautions for 69 of 160 laps. The winner of both races required five or more pit stops, which was a minimum of three more than the driver that finished runner-up.

There’s little doubt Nashville is a great market for IndyCar to be in, especially when seeing the size of the crowds. That said, the layout needs a real re-think or the event just needs to be moved to Nashville Superspeedway – there’s always a need to add more ovals, right? It’s a struggle to think this kind of carnage is sustainable, but also it sways away from what the identity of IndyCar is. It’s one thing to get the occasional odd race, it’s another altogether to make the confines manufacture one by default. When also considering how difficult it is to pass in the sport given the current race package, it doesn’t seem optimal to put on a race where nearly every attack heading into a corner is a divebomb maneuver.

2. An Andretti Rebound

Many had eyes on Colton Herta as someone that would challenge for the win at the 2.1-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit, and rightfully so after his electric pole run and pace in last year’s inaugural edition of the Music City event.

However, there was no pole this year and even worse, there was a collision with Dalton Kellett on Lap 3 that resulted in a visit into the Turn 4 tire barrier and a broken front wing to Herta’s No. 26 Honda. Despite going a lap down, the 22-year-old California native made use of the numerous cautions to catch a wave around to get back on the lead lap and storm through the field to finish fifth.

The tale of the race for Alexander Rossi was slightly different. After bringing out the caution on Lap 8 after ending up stalled in Turn 1, he ended up falling to the back of the 26-car field. However, he took the reins of the No. 27 Honda and methodically clawed back to narrowly miss the podium to grab fourth.

3. The ‘Other’ Kiwi

Scott McLaughlin has been one of the best drivers in the series the past several weeks, with last Sunday’s runner-up run at Nashville being his third consecutive top four finish. The New Zealander nearly pulled the upset with a late at-the-line finish on fellow countryman and self-proclaimed hero Scott Dixon. The sophomore driver has rebounded from a mid-season slump to sit sixth in the championship standings. Although the a shot at the title seems like a longshot at 58 points back to Team Penske teammate and championship leader Will Power, there’s still a lot to play for with three rounds to go.

4. “Welcome to IndyCar..”

Josef Newgarden collided late in the running with Romain Grosjean, which ultimately ended with the latter’s potential top five finish wrecked into the Turn 9 wall on Lap 76 of 80. For Grosjean, who is competing in his first full-time season in IndyCar (ran partial season in 2021), he stood alongside what was left of his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda with hands raised in frustration as Newgarden’s No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet drove by the following lap.

Afterwards, Newgarden, a two-time IndyCar champion, had a message for the ex-Formula 1 veteran: “… Welcome to IndyCar. It gets tight…”

There’s no denying it has been a frustrating year for Grosjean, who has been at the center of many on-track incidents and is still searching for that elusive first win. That said, with Newgarden in the mix of fighting for a championship while Grosjean sits well outside the top 10 in the championship standings in 14th, it’ll be interesting to see if more comes of this new rivalry.

5. Alex ‘No Quit’ Palou 

Some people are just built different, and Alex Palou certainly is one of them. The 25-year-old Spaniard and reigning series champion has been through an eventful several weeks, with a plethora of off-track distractions such as legal battles with his own team, Chip Ganassi Racing, and even being on the outside of certain team activities to make excuses for poor performance. Only, he isn’t.

Instead, Palou has continued to push and be in the mix each and every weekend. In the case of Nashville, he nursed a broken front wing to a podium finish and sits fifth in the championship; only 33 points from the top spot.

Although he is still searching for his first win of the season, consistency has him in a spot where a title repeat isn’t out of the realm of possibility with three rounds to go. Considering all that has gone on surrounding Palou and uncertainties of his destination, the mental fortitude demonstrated thus far certainly can’t be questioned.

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