Maybe this season is indeed the one where Will Power scores his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship.
Power escaped a dramatic hit – to his car and his points lead – and emerged from the contact-filled Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville still clutching the championship lead.
By finishing 11th, Power lost only three points to his nearest challenger even though he was involved in an incident that effectively knocked Pato O’Ward and Graham Rahal out of the 80-lap race on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street circuit.
The incident in Turn 4 was bang-bang as Power checked up for slowing cars in front of him. O’Ward couldn’t avoid running into the back of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, which delivered a direct hit on Power’s gearbox. The damage wasn’t visible to the eye, but it could be seen each time Power was forced to shift gears manually thereafter.
“When you get hit from behind, it knocks out your shifting, so you have to manually shift,” Power said. “You have to lift (off the pedal) and flip the throttle. So, it made it a very interesting day.”
O’Ward took a similar hit from Rahal in the congestion, ending his race due to a lack of gears. Behind them, rookie Callum Ilott, Dalton Kellett, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Simona De Silvestro were involved in the chain reaction to varying degrees. Dixon’s car suffered undertray damage, but he worked through it with a major chassis adjustment by the crew of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and pulled out the victory, the 53rd of his career.
O’Ward said there was nowhere to escape the happenings in front of him.
“I don’t know who caused the checkup,” he said. “I saw cars slowing down, (and) I had to get on the brakes. What Graham did to me I was going to do to Will.
“Sadly, there’s only one way to look at it, and it was a big enough hit to break probably a gear or something in the gearbox. When you hit the attenuator with a pretty solid hit, that’s usually what happens. I couldn’t get it into any gear, and that’s our day.”
And that might be the end of O’Ward’s championship pursuit. The 24th-place finish dropped the driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet two positions in the standings to seventh. He is 59 points out of the lead with only three races to go.
Instead of leading Marcus Ericsson by nine points, as Power was coming into the Nashville weekend, he leads Dixon by six points. Ericsson’s 14th-place finish dropped him a position, but he is only 12 points out of the lead in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Josef Newgarden is fourth after a sixth-place finish in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. He is 22 points behind Power.
“We thought this was a bit of a wild-card race,” Power said. “There was going to be a lot of mayhem, and if you can survive it somewhat, which we did, we’re still in a great place. We’re still digging deep, and we’ll see what we can do in the last three (races).”
Rookies Strong but Lack Results
The results don’t reflect how well Rookie of the Year challengers Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas performed in Sunday’s race. Both ran in the top three before having issues late.
Malukas was the first to incur trouble, his car ending up hard against the Turn 9 tire barrier with the car of fellow rookie Kyle Kirkwood crumbled to his left. Malukas finished 19th in the No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD with Kirkwood 20th in the No. 14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet of AJ Foyt Racing.
Lundgaard ran as high as second, where he was on the restart with 11 laps to go. The Dane seemed poised to make a run on Scott Dixon for the lead when he began to slide. Scott McLaughlin jumped him on that restart, and then on the final resumption with less than two laps left, the No. 30 Shield Cleansers Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing got squeezed, lost five positions and came home eighth.
Paretta, De Silvestro Add Laguna Seca
Paretta Autosport announced Sunday it will field De Silvestro in an additional race this season, the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 11 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The team entered the No. 16 Chevrolet in three races this season, including Sunday’s race in Nashville. De Silvestro finished 26th after starting 24th.
De Silvestro also competed in the eighth and ninth races of the season, at Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Odds and Ends
- Rain delays often reveal interesting things. In this case, viewers on Peacock Premium learned that pole sitter Scott McLaughlin is averse to spicy cheese. He took a bite of some during a live shot with the NBC broadcast team and quickly reacted to its heat.
- Speaking of hot, Graham Rahal said Saturday’s time in the race car was “the hottest I’ve ever been in a car.” Fortunately, the afternoon rain Sunday reduced temperatures and humidity, so much so that INDYCAR removed the mandate for the use of aeroscreen topside ducts that funnel air into the cockpit.
- Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires points leader Linus Lundqvist of HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing went flag to flag to win Sunday’s Indy Lights Music City Grand Prix from the pole for his series-leading fifth race win of the season. Lundqvist’s margin over second-place Sting Ray Robb of Andretti Autosport at the finish was 7.2221 seconds. Andretti Autosport’s Hunter McElrea finished third.
- Lundqvist’s series lead is now 95 points over McElrea heading the first of four remaining races, Saturday, Aug. 20 at World Wide Technology Raceway, the final oval race of the season at 4:15 p.m. ET.
- The event at World Wide Technology Raceway is also the final oval on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar. The first practice of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline is 1 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 19 with qualifying for the NTT P1 Award at 7:15 p.m. ET. Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network will broadcast both live. The race broadcast on the USA Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network starts at 6 p.m. ET Saturday, Aug. 20.