By David Morgan, Associate Editor
NASHVILLE – Scott McLaughlin will have the best seat in the house when the green flag waves on Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix after scoring his second straight pole in Nashville.
Emulating the “Thirsty 3’s to the Moon!” moniker that his No. 3 Team Penske has embraced this season, it was almost as if the New Zealander had strapped the RS-25 rocket engine on display in the fan zone to his Chevrolet as he blasted around the 11-turn, 2.1-mile street course in one minute, 14.6099 seconds to capture the pole.
“Really satisfying because it all started in Q1 for us,” McLaughlin said. “Pumped a decent lap out there. 6/10ths better than P2. We were able to do one lap on our greens. Bolted those on for Q3. I just had to make sure we got to the Fast Six, which we did. Every lap in [qualifying], nailed it pretty good. A really satisfying qualifying session, probably the best of my INDYCAR career, to be honest.
“That was the money [lap], really nice, juicy. I’m really happy with that. Same car as what we ran last year. It’s just been unreal. The Chevy has been awesome. Been a lot of gains everywhere. I think we’ve made improvements.
“Overall, just to come here with the same philosophy, just nail laps, it’s a good feeling.”
McLaughlin came agonizingly close to winning in last year’s race after making a charge late in the race, but falling just short of Scott Dixon at the finish line, so he feels like this time around, he’s got business to finish on Sunday.
“The final stint there, we were 15th. Managed to lose by a nose,” McLaughlin said of last year’s result. “There’s a lot went on. Our car was phenomenal. I feel like it’s just as good this year. Just a matter of… I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. You can’t even plan really. Guy won last year doing six stops.
“You just got to play it on the run and try and do the best job, execute every lap that I can. Pit stops need to be good. Yeah, the reason we were back there last year was a bad pit stop. That was an unfortunate thing that doesn’t really happen on my car.
“Yeah, I’m super pumped for tomorrow to see what we got.
Pato O’Ward will join McLaughlin on the front row after turning in a respectable lap, but still falling some three-tenths short of eclipsing McLaughlin’s lap.
Colton Herta will start third, with current NTT IndyCar Series points leader Alex Palou joining him on the second row. They’ll be followed by David Malukas and Romain Grosjean to round out the Firestone Fast Six.
Will Power will roll off in seventh, with the remainder of the top-10 going to Kyle Kirkwood, Josef Newgarden, and Alexander Rossi.
Rookie Linus Lundqvist continued his stout showing in his inaugural IndyCar weekend by getting his Meyer-Shank Racing Honda into the Top 12 and posting a lap that will see him start 11th on Sunday.
Scott Dixon’s pursuit of another Nashville win took a bit of a detour during qualifying when he crashed in the second round of qualifying, as his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda clipped the inside wall in Turn 11, which then shot him into the outside wall, causing heavy damage to the front end of his machine.
By virtue of making it through to the second round, he will start 12th on Sunday.
“Feel bad for the crew there. Clipping the inside wall and it put us right into the outside,” Dixon explained. “Feel bad for the other drivers too that were on a lap. It is what it is. It’s a tough circuit and the front just turned a lot better than I thought it was going to and unfortunately cut that inside wall.”
Despite the setback, Dixon is ready to get back in the fight tomorrow to run for a second-straight Nashville win.
“Hopefully just try to stay out of the mess,” Dixon said of his gameplan for Sunday. “The past two champions here have been involved in a lot of mess, so that seems to be the theme. We’ll try to stay out of it, keep the car in one piece, and hopefully we’re in a spot to race for it at the end.”
The third-annual Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is scheduled for Noon ET and will be televised on NBC.