In a series known for its tight qualifying margins, Scott McLaughlin blew away the field Saturday to win the NTT P1 Award for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville.
McLaughlin, from New Zealand, earned his second consecutive pole for this event with a top lap of 1 minute, 14.6099 seconds in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet. It was his fourth career NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole and first this season.
SEE: Qualifying Results
Even more impressive was McLaughlin’s margin of .3296 of a second over No. 2 qualifier Pato O’Ward, whose best lap in the Firestone Fast Six was 1:14.9395. That’s the second-biggest gap between first and second in qualifying so far in 13 races this season, topped only by Romain Grosjean’s edge of .4155 of a second in the season-opening race at St. Petersburg.
“We did a big lap in Q1 that really set us up,” McLaughlin said. “Every time we’re in this printer wagon, this DEX Imaging Chevy, she’s a ripper. Really proud of that one.”
Live coverage of the 80-lap race starts at noon ET Sunday on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network. The winners of the first two editions of this race, Marcus Ericsson in 2021 and Scott Dixon in 2022, started 18th and 14th, respectively, so starting up front isn’t essential to contend for victory in an event known for its unpredictability. Still, McLaughlin knows he’s in a good spot to avoid any chaos in the midfield or back at the start or on restarts.
“Who knows at this place?” McLaughlin said. “It’s scary how yellows can happen out of the blue, and strategy can be thrown everywhere. But we start in the No. 1 spot, and that’s the main thing. To put in pole two years in a row is unreal.”
Qualifying took place in dry conditions and under sunny skies and thick humidity after morning and afternoon rain created course conditions that forced a delay of nearly four hours to the start of the session and the cancellation of final practice.
McLaughlin and O’Ward were the only two drivers to break the 1:15 barrier during the last of the three rounds of qualifying on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary circuit that includes two crossings of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge per lap.
Colton Herta qualified third at 1:15.2416 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, with championship leader Alex Palou fourth at 1:15.2462 in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing.
David Malukas will start fifth after a lap of 1:15.8703 in the No. 18 HMD Trucking Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD, tying his best career qualifying performance on a street circuit set in July 2022 at Toronto. Grosjean rounded out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:15.9921 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, as Andretti Autosport was the only team to put two drivers into the first three rows of the grid.
Three drivers in the top five of the standings – Josef Newgarden, Dixon and Ericsson – didn’t advance into the Firestone Fast Six and will start outside of the first three rows Sunday.
Newgarden will start ninth after his best lap of 1:15.4862 in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet during the Fast 12. Six-time series champion Dixon made a rare mistake and clipped the inside wall in Turn 11 with 30 seconds left in the Fast 12, hurtling his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda across the track into the outside retaining wall. Dixon was unhurt, but the front and front right of his car suffered heavy damage. He will start 12th.
Ericsson was quickest in wet conditions during practice Saturday, but his dry-weather pace wasn’t enough to advance from the first round of qualifying. Ericsson will start 20th after his best lap of 1:16.0420 in the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.
Rookie Linus Lundqvist continued to enjoy a magic carpet ride during his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race weekend, as he qualified 11th and was the quickest rookie in the field at 1:16.0715 in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda. It was the second-best qualifying performance of the season for Meyer Shank Racing on a temporary street circuit, bettered only by the eighth-place starting spot by Simon Pagenaud in June at Detroit. Lundqvist is substituting this weekend for Pagenaud, still recovering from a violent flip July 1 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.