Scott McLaughlin won the NTT P1 Award for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on Saturday, grabbing his second career pole on his last flying lap in the Firestone Fast Six.
McLaughlin’s best lap was 1 minute, 14.5555 seconds in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street circuit that includes two trips per lap over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge. The pole came after New Zealand driver McLaughlin led practice earlier in the day at 1:15.4609.
“The car was phenomenal,” McLaughlin said. “We did that on one lap, used tires. One of those good laps.”
The start of qualifying was delayed by 90 minutes due to thunderstorms and lightning that rumbled through downtown Nashville this afternoon. The rain changed the grip level of the tricky, bumpy street circuit.
2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year McLaughlin’s previous pole came this February at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which he won from the top spot for his first career series victory. He also won The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the All-New 2023 Civic Type R in early July from the second starting spot.
“Tell you what, this DEX car is really good, man,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve been going really fast in this car. Won the St. Pete opener with it. Won Mid-Ohio and now we’re pole at Nashville, which is an amazing racetrack.”
Live coverage of the 80-lap race starts at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network. A 30-minute warmup starts at 10:15 a.m. ET, with live coverage on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Romain Grosjean will join McLaughlin on the front row for Sunday’s race after his best lap of 1:14.6975 the No. 28 DHL Honda. This was the best qualifying effort of the season for the Frenchman, whose previous-best start was fifth in the season opener at St. Petersburg.
Rookie Christian Lundgaard continued his impressive weekend by qualifying a career-best third at 1:14.7149 in the No. 30 Shield Cleansers Honda. The Dane’s previous-best start was fourth last August in the road race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Lundgaard, who led practice Friday, came to Nashville after earning a career-best second-place finish last Saturday in the Gallagher Grand Prix on the IMS road course.
Joining Lundgaard in Row 2 is reigning series champion Alex Palou, who qualified fourth at 1:14.9087 in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Pato O’Ward qualified fifth at 1:14.9261 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Two-time series champion and Nashville-area native Josef Newgarden rounded out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:15.1461 in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet.
Newgarden made an interesting gamble that didn’t pay off. He was the only driver in the Firestone Fast Six to qualify on Firestone primary tires. The other five drivers used Firestone alternate tires, which this weekend are constructed with rubber derived from the drought-resistant guayule shrub native to the American Southwest. The primary tire lasts longer but isn’t as grippy as the alternate tire.
Still, Newgarden, O’Ward and Palou are the trio among the top six drivers in the series standings who will start the treacherous street race from the first three rows. Points leader Will Power, 2022 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson and six-time series champion Scott Dixon weren’t so lucky.
Power, who leads Ericsson by nine points with four races to go, will start eighth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. He lost his quickest lap of the second round of qualifying, which would have advanced him into the Firestone Fast Six, when he was penalized for causing a local yellow that affected the lap of the trailing O’Ward late in that session. Power ran long into a run-off area.
“It’s always tough in quali with track position and penalties and getting caught by reds (flags),” Power said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s hard.”
Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Dixon and Ericsson didn’t make it out of the first round of qualifying. Dixon will start 14th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda as he pursues his record-tying seventh season championship.
Ericsson will start 18th in the 26-car field in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. But he can take heart knowing he won the inaugural race on this circuit last year from the same starting spot.
“We need to come up with a good strategy and play the race how it comes,” Ericsson said. “There have been a lot of incidents this weekend, again like last year. I think there are still going to be opportunities. We’re just lacking a bit too much speed at the moment.”