Only four races remain in the 2022 season, and a host of championship contenders will be the focus this weekend as the series heads south to race on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee. This will be the fifth race in the last four weeks, which has tested the patience of teams and drivers throughout the paddock.

Practice got underway today in preparation for Sunday's Music City Grand Prix. This is the second race on the street circuit, as Marcus Ericsson took the win during last year's inaugural event. It didn't come easy though, as he went up and over another car early in the race, but rebounded to take the checkered flag.

Fresh off of his runner-up finish last weekend, Christian Lundgaard recorded the fastest lap (75.9659 seconds) in today’s practice. The rookie was followed by Felix Rosenqvist, David Malukas, Scott McLaughlin, and Josef Newgarden. Several drivers had lock-ups in heavy braking corners, but there were no serious incidents to report.

2022 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix - Practice 1 Results
Pos Driver Team Engine
1Christian LundgaardRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda
2Felix RosenqvistArrow McLaren SPChevrolet
3David MalukasDale Coyne w/ HMD MotosportsHonda
4Scott McLaughlinTeam PenskeChevrolet
5Josef NewgardenTeam PenskeChevrolet
6Alexander RossiAndretti AutosportHonda
7Will PowerTeam PenskeChevrolet
8Colton HertaAndretti AutosportHonda
9Alex PalouChip Ganassi RacingHonda
10Romain GrosjeanAndretti AutosportHonda
11Marcus EricssonChip Ganassi RacingHonda
12Simon PagenaudMeyer Shank RacingHonda
13Callum IlottJuncos Hollinger RacingChevrolet
14Pato O'WardArrow McLaren SPChevrolet
15Takuma SatoDale Coyne w/ Rick Ware RacingHonda
16Scott DixonChip Ganassi RacingHonda
17Kyle KirkwoodAJ Foyt RacingChevrolet
18Devlin DeFrancescoAndretti AutosportHonda
19Jack HarveyRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda
20Graham RahalRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda
21Conor DalyEd Carpenter RacingChevrolet
22Rinus VeeKayEd Carpenter RacingChevrolet
23Helio CastronevesMeyer Shank RacingHonda
24Jimmie JohnsonChip Ganassi RacingHonda
25Simona De SilvestroParetta AutosportChevrolet
26Dalton KellettAJ Foyt RacingChevrolet

Colton Herta dominated much of the race last year, only to lose it all. The Andretti Autosport driver was leading when he pushed too hard and found the wall, just six laps from the finish. He will have some extra motivation this weekend because of that, and also because of the heartbreak from the last weekend. Herta was on his way to sweeping the IMS road course races when a mechanical failure ended his day while in the lead.

Herta's misfortune opened the door for his teammate Alexander Rossi, who finally ended his 49-race winless drought. It was a bitter sweet moment for the team, as Rossi has already announced his plans to leave the team next season, but it was a win that he will always hold close to his heart.

"It would have been a pretty sad story if we weren’t able to win this year," Rossi said. "It's been hard for all of us. It's been hard for Michael (Andretti), for Rob (Edwards), and the sponsors. I'm so appreciative to Michael and the engineering staff for continuing to push to give me the best possible equipment. No one ever quit. No one ever stopped. It was a big team win and a big thank you to the whole organization."

Ericsson had an 8-point lead in the championship going into last weekend but left IMS trailing by 9 points. The Indy 500 winner had an issue with his engine at the beginning of qualifying and was unable to make a lap. He started at the back of the field but managed to salvage the weekend with an 11th place finish. He comes into Nashville as the defending race winner, and hoping to reclaim the top spot in the standings.

Will Power is arguably in the midst of his greatest season in IndyCar, which is quite the statement. The veteran driver has finished inside the top-four in 10 of the 13 races so far this season. His consistency and renewed mental focus has him sitting in prime position to win another championship. It has been quite the year for Team Penske, as their three drivers have led 915 of the 1,723 laps (53 percent) this season.

Newgarden has led the most of any driver this year. The 31-year old Nashville native comes into his home race as the favorite, having won four races already this season. That number would likely be five, had the right-rear shock failure not happened at Iowa when he was dominating once again. After being cleared to race last weekend, he scored a top-five finish to keep himself in contention for his third series title.

The Penske driver was cleared to race last weekend in Indianapolis, but admits that he was not 100 percent himself. "I wasn’t 100 percent but I felt good," Newgarden told the Associated Press. "We needed to be in the race, and I was happy to be there. It wasn’t so much that I was dealing with symptoms, I just wasn’t 100 percent energy. I feel like this week, I’ve had more time to rest."

Newgarden was asked about the changes to the course this weekend. "I think it's a much better surface this year. The first time, you’re really not going to get a good test run until you run the race weekend. You leave the race weekend, you say, okay, now we know how to do that better. I think they were ready for this year. The promoters are really keyed in on how to continue to evolve this track. The restart zone will be much better."

Over in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing camp, the organization appears to have found something. After a dismal start to the season, the team has shown well in the last few races, with Graham Rahal and Lundgaard today. The rookie earned a career-best 2nd place finish last weekend on the IMS road course, and Graham improved ten positions for a solid 7th place result. He finished inside the top-five in this race last year, and hopes to score his first podium of the season on Sunday.

The Arrow McLaren SP team will be looking for a rebound this weekend. Rosenqvist qualified on pole at IMS and Pato O'Ward started behind him in 3rd but their day did not go as planned. They finished 9th and 12th respectively, but issues on the track derailed their races. Neither driver fared well in Nashville last year but both drivers have been performing exceptionally well this season, with O'Ward sitting 5th in the standings.

Herta believes that the fight for pole position tomorrow will be even more intense than last year. "Everybody has a lot more data from the weekend, so they understand a little bit more of what they needed from the car. Maybe ride height, spring setups and whatnot to handle the bumps. It will be a little bit more difficult for sure." There is another wrinkle that will come into play this weekend.

Teams are using the new alternate tires from Firestone, which have sidewalls that are constructed from a planet-based compound. While the manufacturer says the drivers will not feel any difference with these green-colored sidewall tires, only time will tell.

"The feeling should be similar because the contact patch is the same," Herta said. "You never know how soft or stiff the sidewall will be with this new stuff compared to what we had before. It will be interesting to see the loads in the corners and what that might do to spring rates and damping and how that might affect it. It might completely change what you need from the car."

There are 26 cars entered this weekend, with Paretta Autosport back on the grid with driver Simona De Silvestro. The No. 16 Chevrolet has a new primary sponsor in Acumatica Cloud ERP. This is the third leg of the team's plan of running three races this season (Road America, Mid-Ohio, Nashville) but they could very well make another start in one of the final three races on the calendar.

“I was hoping we would have that figured out by now, and I’m not going to say that anything’s done, but maybe by the end of the weekend,” Paretta told Nathan Brown. “We’re just waiting for feedback on an agreement. It is that far along, but I’m never someone who would count their chickens before they hatch.” The team has an alliance with Ed Carpenter Racing, who re-signed potential free agent Rinus VeeKay to a multi-year contract yesterday.

Tomorrow will be an important day for the championship contenders. Starting up front will be key, despite limited success for the pole sitter this season. The only race this year won by the driver starting on pole was the season-opener at St Petersburg. Oddly enough, the driver starting in 2nd place has won 7 of the 13 races so far. That number would be eight (and six straight) had Newgarden's shock not broken at Iowa.

Another 60-minute practice session awaits tomorrow afternoon. Following that will be qualifying for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix at 4:30 ET on Peacock.