Big Machine Music City Grand Prix

Yes, there were stops and starts to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, but the drivers were enthusiastically in support of this event in Nashville, Tennessee, following the 80-lap race.

“We probably had a few too many yellows for what we would have wanted to put on a good show for everyone here, but the crowd in Nashville, unbelievable,” said third-place finisher James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 29 #ShiftToGreen Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport.

“You’d think this race had been going on for years. It’s like a Long Beach, like a Toronto, like a St. Pete in Year 1. Excited to come back.”

Scott Dixon, who finished second in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing, said it was amazing to see the throng of people surrounding most of the 11-turn, 2.17-mile temporary street circuit at the edge of the city’s downtown. Dixon took particular notice of the crowd’s enthusiasm during the parade lap.

“Seeing so many people here,” he said of the fanfare. “That’s what fired me up, and I think what really made the event.

“Big congrats to everybody involved with putting this race on. It was a killer event. (We were) doing a lot of (promotional) stuff and just (being) around the paddock seeing so many people. This is what INDYCAR races are about.”

Race winner Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Bryant Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) said he was surprised how much he enjoyed driving on the circuit. He acknowledged it was challenging, but quality drivers appreciate that in a venue.

“I think everyone has been pleased with how much fun it is,” he said, noting the amount of elevation changes also was a pleasant surprise.

Bourdais: ‘Cars Stopping in Front of Me’

Understandably, Sebastien Bourdais has had enough of pack-ups on restarts, and for the second time this season, his race ended with one. This time, his Nashville race ended on Lap 5 with the front of Ericsson’s car running over the back of his No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.

“There was a massive acceleration, everybody trying to pack up – I don’t know why,” Bourdais said. “It seems like we always have that massive acceleration leading to starts and restarts, which obviously if you get your eyes off or you’re not focused or something you can get caught out real easy. That’s exactly what happened again.

“Everybody was trying to catch up, catch up, catch up -- we caught the tail of the back and then all of a sudden it goes like first, second gear speed and obviously (he) obviously flew over our car.

“Yeah, I stopped because the cars were stopping in front of me.”

Bourdais was knocked out of both races at Texas Motor Speedway at the start of May, the second in a multi-car crash coming to the green flag in the second race.

“I don’t look in the rear-view mirror, but we could definitely use things going our way,” he said. “We don’t need any of (this).”

Said Ericsson of this incident, for which he was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for avoidable contact: “I want to apologize to Seb there at the start (in) the accident. I thought it was green, and I went. I couldn’t see that he stopped. I’m really sorry for that.”

Interestingly, Ericsson said his goal after his car landed was to deliver “a solid top-15” finish. “That was sort of my game plan,” he said. He credited the team with great strategy, so many caution periods, some luck “and then we delivered when we had to.”

Johnson Disappointed but Undeterred

The results won’t reflect it, but there were times during the weekend when Jimmie Johnson’s first-year INDYCAR progress was on full display.

Yes, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson hit the wall in qualifying and did so again in the Sunday morning warm-up practice session, but his No. 48 Carvana Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing got hit from behind in the 12-car parking lot on Lap 20 when Team Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Will Power got together. Officially, Johnson’s car was disqualified when the crew was deemed to have worked to repair his car during a red-flag period.

But results are results, and this one will go down as a 26th-place finish – deceiving, for sure.

“It is, but I feel like the mistake I made in qualifying was really on me, just not using the right braking technique on old tires, and that’s a lesson learned,” Johnson said. “This morning, I just bottomed out (and hit the wall), and this was just a racing incident.

“I think so many people are used to me leading races, racing for wins and championships and may not give this series or this switch as much credit as it deserves just how difficult it is. But I’m having a blast, every weekend getting better and better.”

Brown: Team Set with Same Drivers

During Sunday’s press conference to announce that McLaren Racing is purchasing 75 percent ownership of Arrow McLaren SP, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown indicated both of the team’s current drivers – Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist – will return to the organization next season.

Also, Brown said the team is considering adding a full-time car for the 2022 season if the right driver is available. He said AMSP has a list of preferred candidates, but he did not reveal them. Should one of those drivers not become available, he said the team would turn its attention toward a third full-time car for the 2023 season.

“It’s just about getting the right package together,” Brown said. “We’ve got the resources, so the economics are not a concern. But we want to run three cars that win races and compete for the championship.

“This is very much a driver championship as much as it is a team (championship), so we need to make sure we can get the right pilot in the race car. There’s not a lot of them on the market. We’ve got a very short list, and if we can land someone that we think is capable of winning, we’ll go for it in ’22. If not, we’ll spend ’22 making sure we find the right driver for ’23, but we definitely want to be there with three cars in ’23.”

Odds and Ends

  • Of the race’s 179 passes, 168 of them were for position.
  • The second-place finish moved Dixon into second place in the championship standings, 42 points behind teammate Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda). O’Ward dropped to third, 48 points out of the lead. Five races remain.
  • Dixon scored the 125th podium finish of his decorated career. He continues to gain on Mario Andretti’s all-time record of 144. Dixon is now the only driver to have completed all the laps this season.
  • Hinchcliffe certainly welcomed his podium finish, his first of the season and first since finishing third in the 2019 race at Iowa Speedway.
  • Conor Daly (No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing) should be credited with the tweet of the day: “Today I saw a race car’s nose 30 feet in the air and also end up in victory lane. What universe is this?”
  • Marco Andretti also offered a solid tweet, this one to Colton Herta, who dominated the weekend before hitting the wall in the race in his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian: “Head high. You were THE show.”
  • Next up for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is next week’s motorsports tripleheader with NASCAR’s Cup and Xfinity Series on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The first practice for the INDYCAR race, the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix, is at 3 p.m. (ET) Friday. NTT P1 Award qualifying is later that day at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the warm-up practice will be at 8:45 a.m. with the 85-lap race beginning with television coverage at 12:30 p.m. on NBCSN. The Xfinity Series will follow with the 62-lap Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard at 4 p.m. with the 82-lap Verizon 200 at the Brickyard for the Cup Series at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Cup race airs on NBC.