McLaughlin Tops Grosjean for Pole Position at Nashville

Scott McLaughlin made his final lap of qualifying count, posting the fastest lap of the day to take pole position for the Music City Grand Prix.
INDYCAR at Nashville: Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske
INDYCAR at Nashville: Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske

McLaughlin earned his second career pole in dramatic fashion, stealing the top spot from Romain Grosjean as the final car on track. The Team Penske driver seems to have a knack for street courses, with his first pole coming in the season-opener on the streets of St Petersburg.

"The car was phenomenal," McLaughlin said. "Really proud of the guys. We did that on one lap, used tires. It was one of those good laps. I'll tell you what, this DEX car is really good. We’ve been going really fast in this car. We won the St. Pete opener with it. We won Mid-Ohio and now we’re on pole at Nashville, which is an amazing racetrack."

Although it was a gut punch for Grosjean, the Andretti Autosport driver will still have a good view of the green flag from the front row. The former Formula One driver is still searching for his first career win, but did come away with a runner-up finish at Long Beach earlier this year.

Two more hungry drivers, Christian Lundgaard and Alex Palou, will start from Row 2 tomorrow. Lundgaard has been fast all weekend, leading the opening practice session on Friday. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver is one of several rookie drivers that have been impressive on the Nashville street circuit.

Pato O'Ward and Nashville native Josef Newgarden both advanced to the Firestone Fast six, and will start from Row 3 tomorrow. There were five teams represented in the Firestone Fast Six, with an equal number of Chevrolet and Honda-powered cars.

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

David Malukas continued his impressive rookie campaign with a 7th place qualifying effort for Dale Coyne Racing. Will Power will start alongside him on Row 4, as he was penalized in the second round of qualifying for going off course in front of another driver. Graham Rahal and Rinus VeeKay completed the top-ten in qualifying.

All three RLL cars advanced out of the first round for the first time this season, as they continue their upward trajectory. Jack Harvey will roll off 11th tomorrow, capping a fantastic day for the organization.

Chaos erupted in the first group of qualifying when Colton Herta slid into the tire barrier late in the session and caused a red flag. Time ran out and several contenders found them on the outside looking in, including his two teammates Alexander Rossi and Devlin DeFrancesco. It was a brutal blow for the team, and Herta's hopes of redemption tomorrow.

Herta was on pace to win the inaugural race last year, but saw it all go out the window when he found the wall in the closing laps as he chased down the leader. Ironically enough, today’s incident happened at the same spot on the track.

McLaughlin Tops Grosjean for Pole Position at Nashville

"I broke too late, got in a little too deep," Herta said. "The conditions were a little tricky; they were very slow compared to what we had earlier because of the rain that came through and kind of washed away a lot of the good rubber. I feel really bad. I screwed myself; I screwed Rossi and probably a few other guys that were just innocent bystanders. We had a great car last year, but you never know what you're going to get when you come back to a street circuit and there's some changes to the track.”

Those changes to the track should dramatically improve the racing, as drivers will have more opportunities to pass. Restarts will now take place in the same spot as the start of the race, which is the longest straight on the revised 2.1-mile, 11-turn circuit. The large bumps in Turn 5 have been repaved, the ultra-wide Turn 9 has been narrowed to 50 feet, and Turn 11 has been widened by six feet. The city also made improvements to soften the transition on and off the Korean Veterans Bridge.

Last year's race featured a total of nine cautions, with 33 of the 80 laps running under yellow conditions. There were also two red-flag periods that stretched the event to nearly three hours in length.

Power is having the best season of his illustrious career, which is quite the statement about the 2014 champion. "It feels like it's going to go down to the last race," he said. "I expect to be having a fight at Laguna, we'll see how it plays out. A lot of guys still clustered up. There's probably still five guys in the game, so still a long way to go."

Will's streak of 11 consecutive seasons finishing inside the top five of the standings came to an end last year when he finished 9th. He credits his turnaround to a new mindset. "It’s so different to what it was back then. I just know the game so well, I’m mentally just miles ahead in every respect than I was back then. Just a tremendous amount of experience in this series. It's an attitude switch where you know these races are long, the season is long, and you've got to make the most of every situation."

Scott Dixon just missed advancing out of the first round by one spot and will start 14th tomorrow. The Ganassi driver finished 2nd here last year, but will have to find his way around a lot of cars if he wants to have a serious shot at his 7th championship this season.

Dixon’s teammate and defending race winner Marcus Ericsson has had a rough weekend, and starts 18th tomorrow. Oddly enough, that is the same position he started last year when he won. He wasn’t pleased but the Indy 500 winner does like the adjustments to the new course. "It makes the racing a little bit better because there were a couple of places where it gets quite tight and a bit too twisty," he said.

"I thought the challenge that the track presented last year was really cool, it’s just for some reason, there were a lot of accidents happening. The restart zone was one of the issues. There’s going to be a lot of drafting and slipstream going on, and Turn 9 is quite an open entry, so it’s a good spot to overtake. For the leader, it’s not ideal."

McLaughlin Tops Grosjean for Pole Position at Nashville

Felix Rosenqvist agrees with his fellow Swede. "I think the restart zone was the big one that needed to change, so that’s a great easy change. I drove that track on a simulator with other changes, and honestly it’s nothing really major. I thought Turn 9 just seems a bit tighter." The Arrow McLaren SP driver starts 15th tomorrow after being caught out by Herta’s red flag in the first group.

It has been a tough season for the Meyer Shank Racing team, as both drivers have struggled to produce results. Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves are 13th and 18th in the championship standings. Between the two of them, they have combined for one top-five finish in 26 starts and have led just one lap all season. Pagenaud (23rd, 23rd, 25th last three races) has been in a major slump, leading just 12 total laps over the course of the last 36 races.

"It’s been a rough spot right in the middle of the season where it’s been some mistakes we’ve made or it’s just been bad luck," said co-owner Michael Shank. "It’s been various different things we’re just trying to get out of this barrage. We need to tighten up our processes and everything we do. We’re working on it every single day. It’s embarrassing. I look at the ebb and flow of teams, and they do well one weekend and miss it the next, and that’s not where we want to be."

The veteran drivers qualified 13th and 24th today, with Simon being another one of the drivers that was caught out by the red flag. The four-time Indy 500 winner will serve a six-spot grid penalty for an engine change, meaning he will start at the rear of the field.

VeeKay was set to become the biggest piece of the Silly Season puzzle this year, but that domino has already fallen. Ed Carpenter Racing announced yesterday that they have agreed to a multi-year agreement with the 21-year old that will have him back in the No. 21 Chevrolet for a fourth consecutive year. VeeKay is now the longest-tenured full-time driver in the team's 11-year history.

Practice and qualifying have set the stage for tomorrow’s race on the streets of Nashville. Coverage for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix begins at 3 ET on NBC.

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