Big Machine Music City Grand Prix

New NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Will Power would not be drawn into a what-if discussion following Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The championship battle, he insisted, is too tight, too intense, too unpredictable to draw conclusions now.

Four races remain, beginning with Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville (3 p.m. ET, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

“I mean, that’s impossible to predict (the outcome) – it’s still pretty close right now,” the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet said. “It feels like (the battle) is always going to go down to the last race; I expect to be having a fight at Laguna.”

The season ends Sept. 11 with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Between now and then is the street race in Nashville, the short oval Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug. 20 and the permanent road course Portland Grand Prix at Portland International Raceway on Sept. 4.

Meanwhile, the top five drivers are separated by just 46 points, making this one of the closest pursuits in the history of this points allocation format. Power might be leading now, but Marcus Ericsson is just nine points in arrears with multi-time series champions Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon lurking, 32 and 38 points behind, respectively.

“Yeah, we’ll see how it plays out – (it’s) impossible to predict in this series,” Power said.

Ericsson Ready for Respond

Ericsson has been atop the point standings following six of the 13 races this season, but the driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda dropped to second behind Power after the Gallagher Grand Prix. Trailing by nine points with the title-pursuit pressure about to rachet up, it’s time to see how the winner of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge reacts.

Ericsson finished 11th in last weekend’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, a big gain from the 25th starting position due to precautionary shutdown of the engine on his first qualifying lap. He said the drive forward through the field at Indy gives him confidence heading into this weekend’s event.

“We were strong out there and had a good strategy going long on the first stint,” he said. “Unfortunately, (a) yellow came, and it was very badly timed for us. So, that advantage we would have had for the second half of the race sort of got away from us.

“Still, moving up from 25th is something to be happy about. We’re still very much in the mix for the championship, and we’re going to Nashville where we won last year. I’m looking forward to that.”

After overcoming his vertical lift from running into the back of Sebastien Bourdais’ car early in the inaugural Nashville race, Ericsson had the dominant car in the second half of the race. He held off Colton Herta in a spirited battle before Herta hit the tire barrier in Turn 9. Ericsson led the final 25 laps for his second career series victory.

Watch for Second

When qualifying for the NTT P1 Award is held Saturday, pay some attention to the pole winner but then turn quickly to the other front-row starter. No. 2 might finish the race No. 1.

Scott McLaughlin is the only driver to have won a race from the pole this season, doing so in the opener in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, Alexander Rossi became the seventh driver this season to win from the second starting position last weekend on the IMS road course. Interestingly, it would have been eight wins in succession for the No. 2 starter had Josef Newgarden not crashed out of the second Iowa Speedway race after leading 148 of the first 235 laps.

The second-place finishers winning races this season include Newgarden at Long Beach, Pato O’Ward at Barber Motorsports Park, Newgarden at Road America, McLaughlin at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Scott Dixon in Toronto, Newgarden in Race 1 at Iowa Speedway and Rossi on the IMS road course.

Of note, McLaughlin nearly won the race at Texas Motor Speedway from the second starting position. He finished second after being passed by Newgarden in the final corner of the race.

Modifications to Temporary Street Circuit

A new restart zone is the highlight of several track modifications for this year’s race.

Last year, the restarts occurred between Turns 11 and 1 in front of Nissan Stadium, but they will be conducted on the long straightaway as the field exits the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge heading toward Turn 9. The new restart zone will be the same area that was used for the start of the race last season and should provide more immediate passing opportunities.

Turn 9 is 25 feet narrower due to accommodate more hospitality suites, and Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) is in favor of it based driving it on the simulator earlier this week.

“It’s just a little slower corner that will promote more overtaking because it was kind of quick last year, so you needed a lot of confidence to send it in there to pass someone,” he said. “So, potentially better racing (there).”

Other modifications to the 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street circuit include the apex of the final corner opened by approximately 6 feet to provide better vision for the drivers. The transition areas at both ends of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge have been smoothed as much as possible to reduce the potential of the cars bottoming coming on and off the bridge.

Turn 5 has been resurfaced to minimize a bump in the corner’s apex. Additional gates have been installed to allow for quicker track crossings.

The Weekend Schedule

The action in Nashville begins with a 75-minute practice Friday for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. The session rolls off a 4:15 p.m. ET on Peacock Premium.

Saturday, the series has its second practice of the weekend at 12:15 p.m. ET, with 45 minutes of guaranteed track time. Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award at 4:30 p.m., again with both sessions on Peacock Premium.

Sunday, there’s a pre-race warmup at 10:15 a.m. with the 80-lap race at 3 p.m. with coverage on NBC, Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is also on the card and will mirror the NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar the rest of the season. Its 35-lap Nashville race is set for 1:10 p.m. ET Sunday (Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Live!).

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