A late red flag and a four-lap dash to the line resulted in Scott McLaughlin finishing second at this morning’s Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville, behind only Kyle Kirkwood.
The next closest finishing Kiwi was Scott Dixon in fifth, followed by Marcus Armstrong in 13th. As for championship leader Alex Palou, he rounded out the podium in third, while Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden came fourth.
Following an aborted start after Australia’s Will Power ran into difficulties on the formation lap, McLaughlin would lead the field to green, putting a gap on the field over the opening laps. His gains were reduced on Lap 13 when David Malukas’s rear wing collapsed, bringing out a caution and resulting in several stops, including for Alex Palou, who dropped to 22nd, having taken less fuel than planned.
McLaughlin rebuilt his lead off the Lap 16 restart, pulling a four-second gap over the trailing pack before coming in for a stop on Lap 25. Once the front-runners followed, Palou took the lead while Romain Grosjean and McLaughlin quickly made up ground to rejoin the leaders who had pitted the earlier caution.
McLaughlin and Grosjean engaged in another fierce battle through the mid-stages, the Kiwi taking second, behind only Kirkwood, on Lap 49 as Palou came in for a second stop.
Kirkwood stopped again two laps later, allowing the Kiwi Team Penske driver to retake the lead, and returned to the track ahead of Palou. McLaughlin came in on Lap 52, splitting the pair as Kirkwood retook the top spot when Grosjean came in, the French driver dropping behind Newgarden, Dixon, Pato O’Ward and Power following a slow in-lap.
Kirkwood built a lead with 25 laps to run, while McLaughlin also put a significant gap over Palou, who desperately needed to save fuel. The championship leader was just about to come in for a splash in the dying stages when a Safety Car was called when Linus Lundqvist hit the Turn 11 wall as he went to pressure Armstrong. This proved to be Palou’s saving grace.
The green was shown with seven laps to run but only lasted 11 turns as Felix Rosenqvist, Agustin Canapino and Benjamin Pedersen were involved in a three-car nose-to-tail collision against the outside barrier. Colton Herta also hit the same wall unassisted but could drive back to the pit lane unaided.
A red flag was called to clean the track, with Kirkwood leading McLaughlin, Palou, Newgarden and Dixon, respectively.
The four-lap dash to the line saw Kirkwood hold firm for his second career victory by just 0.7633 seconds, while McLaughlin withstood a late Palou challenge to hold on for second for the second consecutive Music City Grand Prix. Despite fuel-saving issues, Palou rounded out the podium ahead of Newgarden and Dixon.
“Good job for Alex and the No. 10. It’s just one of those years that they are having. We needed it to go green the whole way. Tough weekend for the PNC Bank team. Had we started a bit further up, I think we would have had a much better day,” said Dixon, who had started from 12th after crashing out of Round 2 of qualifying.
Armstrong made late gains to move from 19th to finish 13th and said, “It was a tough race, really. I thought it was going well in the first stint. We picked up a few places, and we kept going forward. We had a lot of pace but started losing track position and, overall, just struggled on the soft tires. We’ll look into things and move forward from here.”
McLaughlin’s results move him up to fourth in the standings, only 16 points behind the third-placed Dixon. Palou has extended his lead over Newgarden to 84 points, while Dixon is 126 points off the leader.
IndyCar returns next weekend for the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Road Course.