Kirkwood wins Music City Grand Prix, as Palou adds to IndyCar points lead

Spread the love

photo: Penske Entertainment/Chris Owens

Kyle Kirkwood led 34 laps, including the final 26 laps and a late-race shootout restart, and took his second career win at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on Sunday. The Andretti Autosport driver held off Team Penske polesitter Scott McLaughlin, ahead of championship leader Alex Palou, who was saved from having to take a final pitstop by the late cautions and built onto his championship lead, staying in front of McLaughlin’s teammate, Indy 500 winner and current Indycar runner-up Josef Newgarden. Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, and last year’s winner, Scott Dixon rounded out the top five. The race was, until the final ten laps, a routine affair compared to past Nashville races, with only four caution flags, counting the first one for a waved-off start.

On the second try, McLaughlin got a great jump from the lead, and he and Pato O’Ward kept a comfortable distance from the field in the early going. Colton Herta took third, with Palou sliding back to fifth behind David Malukas, but was back up to fourth by lap eight. The alternate tire, which most of the field started on, stopped working for some cars almost immediately; Rinus Veekay came in on the fourth lap of the race, with cars little by little coming in to switch onto the primary tire. Much of this strategy was in anticipation of Nashville being a typical caution-fest, but the first competitive yellow didn’t come until lap 13, when Malukas–fresh off a pit stop–suffered a rear wing failure and went onto an escape road.

At this point the top four–McLaughlin, O’Ward, Herta, and Palou–were all running on alternate tires, with a group of Romain Grosjean, Kirkwood, and Will Power behind them on primary tires. Palou would be the only one to pit before the race resumed on lap 16, and while McLaughlin and O’Ward continued forward, Herta slid backwards, making contact with multiple cars and surfaces in the process before finally making it back to the pits, and would officially finish 21st.

Of the other two cars up front on alternate tires, O’Ward would come in first, and only after locking up and falling behind both Grosjean and Kirkwood, finally taking fresh rubber on lap 24. McLaughlin pitted on lap 26, which cycled the primary starters into the lead: first Grosjean, who pitted on lap 29, then Kirkwood, who came in on lap 30 with Will Power. This brought forward one of the early early pitters, Marcus Ericsson, who led four laps before coming in and promoting Palou to the lead.

Palou came in on lap 46, and while Kirkwood went to the lead, his teammate Grosjean tried to keep McLaughlin at bay for five laps before the New Zealander capitalized on a mistake from the Frenchman to take second place on lap 49. The lead group came in starting on lap 51, but by lap 54 Kirkwood had cycled back to the lead, and he and McLaughlin put as much as ten seconds on the rest of the field with 15 laps to go.

It seemed like a traditionally chaotic race would come down to fuel conservation, but with 10 laps to go the racing deities restored Nashville’s usual sense of disorder, as Linus Lundqvist–who had a great weekend filling in for Simon Pagenaud at Meyer Shank Racing, and had been in the top 10 off and on this race–ran wide and into the barriers to bring out a caution. The restart came four laps later, and almost immediately ended as a chain-reaction crash between Felix Rosenqvist, Agustin Canapino, and Benjamin Pedersen brought out a yellow, then a red flag.

After the cars got rolling again, the race became a three-lap shootout, and Kirkwood got a fantastic jump on everyone to take a two and a half second lead after one lap. McLaughlin quickly cut into this lead, though, and had the gap down to under a second with one lap left, but couldn’t quite make up the difference and took his second straight second-place at Nashville, while Palou–who seemed in danger of needing to pit once more until the final yellows–kept in the hunt and added to his points lead over Newgarden, now at 84 points as Indycar heads back to Indianapolis for the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next Saturday.