Colton Herta is looking firmly forward heading into the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix this weekend, even though he’s very aware of what’s in the rearview mirror from last year’s inaugural race on the streets of Nashville.
Herta is aiming for his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory of the season in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street circuit (3 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network). Herta dominated this race last year, winning the NTT P1 Award and leading a race-high 39 of 80 laps.
But Herta crashed into the tire barrier Turn 9 with five laps to go while running second and chasing leader and eventual winner Marcus Ericsson. His race was over, in 19th place.
“Nashville, that went … I don't want to talk about that one, but we were fast there,” Herta said.
Herta is hoping to be even faster this weekend and beyond. He comes to Nashville in the exhaust of another disappointment, finishing 24th in the Gallagher Grand Prix last Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course after a mechanical failure while leading just shy of the halfway mark of the race.
“We've got really good races coming up for us,” Herta said. “We just need to maximize what we can do on those weekends.”
Herta has found that a short memory will help him maximize his performance.
“No, I try to move past it as soon as possible,” Herta said when asked if he focuses for a while on issues like the mechanical failure at the Gallagher Grand Prix.
Herta is 10th in the standings with 285, with a chance of reaching the top five by the end of the season. Herta is 100 points behind fifth-place Pato O’Ward with four races remaining, a big gap to bridge.
There’s no doubt Herta has the speed to race for victories every weekend, especially at Nashville. He has won the NTT P1 Award on the street circuits at Long Beach and Toronto this season, and he has produced four top-five finishes this season, including a victory in the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course.
But inconsistency has plagued Herta and the No. 26 team. He has four finishes of 23rd or lower.
“Maybe if we have an amazing string of the rest of the races, we can maybe creep into the top five,” Herta said. “But that would be a pretty big ask.”
So, Herta has chosen to shift his focus from winning the championship to being consistent in every race to hopefully set a steady tempo for next season.
“I'd like to just finish out the season and just be in the top five in every race and just get kind of the ball really for what we need with no more issues and no problems and just finish off the year strong,” Herta said. “The confidence is still there. I understand these things happen and stuff, but unfortunately, it's happened quite frequently and a lot this year.
“We need to kind of be on top of it, make sure we understand what's going wrong, so it doesn't happen again.”
Expect Herta to be on or near the top of the time sheets this weekend at Nashville. He won the pole and led the most laps last year on the tricky, bumpy circuit that includes two trips across the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Cumberland River on each lap. He also was the quickest driver in the first two practices and was fourth in the pre-race warmup.
“This is a really good opportunity, basing off last year, for us to win,” Herta said. “I am really excited to get back there.
“It’s an awesome race. It's a lot of fun to drive that track. It's very interesting and a lot of different parts to it. I'm excited to be back.”