By David Morgan, Associate Editor
NASHVILLE – There’s something about Kyle Kirkwood and winning on street courses in 2023.
For the second time this season, the newest member of the Andretti Autosport stable was cool, calm, and collected under pressure as he put on a masterclass in Nashville to win the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
After starting eighth, Kirkwood cycled to the lead a couple of different times as pit stop strategy played out, but once he cycled back to the top spot on lap 54, it was his race to lose from there.
As the laps wound down, it seemed he would be on a Sunday drive to his second NTT IndyCar Series victory to go along with his win earlier this year in Long Beach, but he would have to contend with the infamous Nashville cautions and red flags before getting there.
He kept his cool on two consecutive restarts on lap 74 and 77, motoring away from pole sitter Scott McLaughlin on both occasions to secure the win. By the time the checkered flag flew, Kirkwood had led the most laps on the day with 34 circuits out front.
“It was phenomenal afternoon,” said Kirkwood. “I mean, we absolutely nailed everything it felt like, to be honest. We had a great strategy. Car was extremely fast. Through the entire race, I feel like we were probably one of the fastest cars. I look back, I have no idea, but I assume we were.
“Andretti Autosport, AutoNation Honda keep giving me a great car that’s good on street courses. This should be more than two wins, to be honest, on street courses given the cars they’ve given me.
“I’m thrilled with this one here today. This is kind of redemption from last year. A dumb incident. Redemption from Toronto. Redemption from Detroit.”
For McLaughlin, it’s another year of being the bridesmaid in the Music City, as he finishes as the runner-up for the second year in a row. It seemed he would be the driver to beat coming into the day, but after leading the first 25 laps, pit strategy didn’t quite fall his way and he would have to settle for second.
“I’m disappointed,” McLaughlin said. “But it is what it is. I think we had a really fast car today. Just that first yellow destroyed a few things, which is probably going to play. You hope it doesn’t come, but it came. You take it or lose your advantage, try to reset and go again. That’s what we decided, the latter.
“We did pretty well. We were able to come back a little bit. But overall Kyle just had that little shorter stop that he could do, away they went.”
Current IndyCar Series points leader Alex Palou rounded out the podium finishers after surviving a fuel mileage scare down the stretch to keep his championship contenders in his rear-view and maintain an 84-point lead over Josef Newgarden with four races to go.
Prior to the final two cautions, it was looking as if Palou was going to have to pit under green for fuel, ceding crucial track position to Newgarden in the points race, but the late race stoppages allowed him to save enough to make it to the end with his points margin intact.
“We were super, super lucky today,” Palou said. “Luck was on our favor because we were not going to make it. Then those yellows came.
“But, yeah, it was a very stressful race. I think I lost like five years of my life just trying to save fuel, a lot of fuel, and praying for a yellow. It finally came, which was good for me, not for you. It was perfect for me.
“Yeah, it was overall a really good day. Could have been a lot cleaner and a lot easier. We wanted to make it a bit too hard.”
Hometown hero Newgarden finished the day just behind Palou in fourth-place, with Scott Dixon, Romain Grosjean, Marcus Ericsson, Pato O’Ward, Christian Lundgaard, and Will Power rounding out the top-10 finishers.
Coming into Sunday’s race, cautions were on the mind of all the drivers and teams after a multitude of yellow flags and red flags in the first two editions of the Music City Grand Prix, but for the majority of the day, it seemed that trend would be reversed.
Only one yellow flag flew in the first 70 laps of the race when David Malukas lost his rear wing on lap 13, but once the lap counter hit 10 laps to go, the Nashville we have come to know and love came back out to play.
On lap 71, rookie Linus Lundqvist, who was having a stellar showing in his first IndyCar start with Meyer-Shank Racing, found himself in the Turn 11 wall to bring out the second caution of the day.
That would be followed by the biggest crash of the race on the subsequent restart, when Turn 11 once again became calamity corner. Felix Rosenqvist and rookies Agustin Canapino and Benjamin Pedersen all piled into each other, with one wedged under the other.
Due to the long clean-up time it would have taken to get the track back in racing condition, the red flag was thrown to allow safety officials the time to get all three machines picked up, setting up the final restart with three laps to go.
It will be a quick turnaround for the NTT IndyCar Series before its next event, the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Scheduled for August 12, the 85-lap race will be televised on USA Network at 2:00 pm ET.