Colton Herta

Colton Herta again found himself in the spotlight in Nashville, only this time his contact with a tire barrier hurt more than his chances to win Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.

Herta’s incident late in the first group of Saturday’s qualifying session brought out the red flag, and there wasn’t enough time to restart the session. Several drivers, including Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, were on their best laps and didn’t get to finish them. Thus, they also did not advance.

Rossi clearly was annoyed, walking back to the transporter with his helmet on. All Herta could do was apologize.

“That was just (being) a little too ambitious for what the conditions were,” Herta said. “I think after it rained a lot (during the afternoon) that (tire) grip kind of fell away. Just trying to find the right braking point and overdid it.

“It’s hard when you put on these (alternate tires) and they’re (optimal) for one or two laps – you really have to get after it. I apologize to my team, especially to (Michael) Andretti because I probably (hurt) Rossi there pretty good and probably a few other guys.

“I don’t try and do that on purpose, and it’s really an honest mistake. I feel bad for everybody involved.”

The session-ending red flag led to mixed-up results, with several top drivers failing to advance to the second round. Simon Pagenaud (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing), Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) and Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) are the most noteworthy. They will start Sunday’s 80-lap race (3 p.m. ET, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network) in positions 13th, 15th and 17th, respectively.

Herta will start 21st. Last year, his contact with the tire barrier came in Turn 9 while chasing race leader Marcus Ericsson with six laps to go. Ericsson went on to claim his second career series victory.

Harvey, Kellett Benefit from Caution

The red flag for Herta’s mistake was the break a few drivers in that group needed, including Jack Harvey (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan) and Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-LINE/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet).

Harvey reached the top 12 for the third time in the past four races. He will line up 11th.

Kellett earned the highest starting position of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career in 12th. His previous best was 14th in this year’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“We made the right call (using alternate tires on consecutive runs) for that Q1 session and managed to transfer, (and) that was one of our goals for the year and really happy we could make it happen here in Nashville,” Kellett said. “INDYCAR races are 100 percent (driven by good) track position. To be able to start further up on the grid is really a big benefit for us.

“This is probably going to be a tough race; we’re going to have to put our best foot forward tomorrow. Looking forward to putting on a good show.”

Harvey’s performance was part of a team-wide effort for a RLL organization that has quietly produced better form in recent races. All three team cars qualified in the top 12, with rookie Christian Lundgaard earning the third starting position despite drawing a drive-through pit road penalty for causing a local yellow.

Lundgaard has qualified in the Firestone Fast Six in two consecutive races. He started sixth and finished second in last month’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES podium finish.

One Hot Summer Day

Before the rain arrived Saturday, Nashville’s weather was downright steamy: 92 degrees for the midday practice with high humidity. Or, as JJ Sebastianelli described it on the INDYCAR Radio Network, “air you can wear.”

The drivers certainly felt the effect, and that was with short runs on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street circuit. The real difficulty comes Sunday over an 80-lap race as conditions are expected to be similar.

“It is hot inside of the car, and the worst part is honestly half of the track -- Turns 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 there’s no air flow whatsoever,” Pato O’Ward said. “When I got out of the car (Friday), I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of a race car, even after a wreck (like that). I compared it to like an Iowa (Speedway) race. It was extremely warm.”

The driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet said he won’t wear one of the torso-covering cool suits either. Nor will Scott McLaughlin, who will start on the pole.

“I’ve had too many fail on me (while racing) in Australia,” said McLaughlin, the driver of the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet. “I’m going to go naturally aspirated and try to rely on the top duct and the air fin.”

NBC analyst James Hinchcliffe said a better description of McLaughlin was “naturally perspirated.”

Said McLaughlin: “It’s very hot out there, but we train for this. It’s humid, that’s probably the hardest thing for us right now as drivers, but I feel pretty good.”

It was hot even after the rain. Said Takuma Sato, “I only turned six laps, but I’m sweating like I just got out of the shower.”

Newgarden: Event Well-Received Locally

Year 2 of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix felt like Year 1 to the driver who knows the city best.

“It looks as popular to me as last year,” Nashville-area native and resident Josef Newgarden said. “Genuinely, I heard nothing but rave reviews from the locals here.

“Anyone that came to this event (last year) says they had an amazing time. They noticed there were some issues with the race – there were a lot of yellows – but as far as the event went, they were like, ‘We loved it, we had a blast, we thought (the promoter) put on a great event, and we had a really good time.”

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is expected to return to the city in 2023.

“I feel positive about where (the event) is going,” said Newgarden, who will start sixth in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. “I really don’t see any negativeness about it.”

Shortcut Added to Help Track Flow

An adjustment was made to the run-off area at Turn 1, giving drivers an option to rejoin the field without assistance from the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team.

A shortcut now connects Turns 1 and 3, although if used in Sunday’s race the track position will be lost. A safe re-entry is the responsibility of the driver and his team, and any unsafe conduct in the area may be subject to further penalty.

Odds and Ends

  • Scott McLaughlin earned his record 61st pole as a member of Team Penske, breaking a tie with Helio Castroneves for the most poles by a Penske driver. McLaughlin earned his first 59 poles as a member of the organization’s Australian V8 Supercars team, with which he won three consecutive season championships from 2018-20.
  • The two drivers atop the point standings, Will Power and Marcus Ericsson, will be deeper in the pack than they’d like when the green flag drops at approximately 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday. Power will start eighth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet after losing his fastest qualifying lap for causing a local yellow. Ericsson will roll off 18th in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Power leads Ericsson by nine points with four races to go.
  • Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean (No. 28 DHL Honda) will start on the front row for only the second time in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career. He won the pole for his third race, the GMR Grand Prix in 2021 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
  • Lundgaard wasn’t the only rookie to excel in Saturday’s qualifying. David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD) earned the No. 7 starting position. He has started in the top eight in five of the past eight races.
  • Lundgaard and Malukas are among the six NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers competing on this circuit for the first time. The others are fellow rookies Kyle Kirkwood, Callum Ilott and Devlin DeFrancesco, and veteran Simona De Silvestro.
  • Two-time INDYCAR champion Al Unser Jr. was at the track Saturday working as an analyst for the Trans Am race.
  • Given the 90-minute afternoon weather delay, the decision was made to cancel qualifying for Sunday’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race and set the starting lineup based on season entrant points.
  • Series leader Linus Lundqvist will start on the Indy Lights pole in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry. He has won four of the series’ nine races this season and holds a 77-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Hunter McElrea, who has won the past two races (at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Iowa Speedway).
  • This will be the first Indy Lights race on Nashville’s temporary street circuit. Green flag is set for 1:10 p.m. (ET), with a live broadcast on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.