By David Morgan, Associate Editor
NASHVILLE – It’s just been Scott McLaughlin’s day in Nashville.
After leading the way in practice to kick off the day, the driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet laid down a flying lap in the last few seconds of qualifying for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix to score his second pole of the season with a lap of one minute, 14.555 seconds.
The last time McLaughlin won the pole at St. Pete to start the season, he came away as the victor. He has the same car he won with at his disposal this weekend and is making his presence known.
“I’ll tell you what, this DEX car is really good, man,” McLaughlin said. “Like we’ve been going really fast with it. Won the St. Pete opener with it, won at Mid-Ohio when those guys were in those suits, and now we’re on pole at Nashville, which is an amazing race track.
“Really proud of the DEX Imaging Chevy and the guys. The car was phenomenal and to do that on one lap used tires. It was our fastest lap of the qualifying session, I think, and yeah, it was one of those good laps.”
Romain Grosjean also put down his fastest lap in the final few minutes of the session to clock in second fastest, followed by rookie Christian Lundgaard in third, as he continued the speed he has shown all weekend.
With the end result being his best qualifying effort yet, Lundgaard had to overcome some obstacles in the second round of qualifying to get there. He was handed a drive-through penalty for causing a local yellow, erasing his fastest lap of the session, but he quickly put the penalty behind him as he posted a quick enough time to transfer onto the Fast Six with ease.
“The weekend started off well,” Lundgaard said. “We were fastest in practice yesterday. I think we were missing a bit of pace earlier today in practice. I think the rain actually helped us, just cooled everything down. It seemed like everyone was struggling with brake stability and so were we. It definitely stabilized now. Now it’s locking the fronts and not the rears. We saw that out there.
“It was a very exciting session and we’re making progress. That’s the most important.”
Defending series champion Alex Palou will start Sunday’s race from fourth-place, followed by Pato O’Ward in fifth and Josef Newgarden rounding out the top three rows of the starting grid.
Rookie David Malukas will start seventh, with Will Power in eighth, Graham Rahal in ninth, and Rinus VeeKay in 10th.
Power ended the second round inside the Fast Six, but after overshooting Turn 4 and ending up in the run-off, which impeded the trailing car of O’Ward, Power’s fastest lap was taken away, dropping him to eighth. In turn, O’Ward advanced into the Fast Six as a result of the penalty.
“It was definitely good enough to be in the Fast Six,” Power said. “Just couldn’t leave a big enough gap to VeeKay. He was just so slow and I caught him and locked a wheel. I mean, I didn’t catch him, catch him, but when you’ve got that distraction in front of you, you’ve got some dirty air…
“It’s always tough in [qualifying] with track position and penalties and getting caught by reds. Just the way it is, it’s hard.”
After hitting the track at 5:00 pm local time following a weather delay of an hour and a half, the first group of qualifiers also brought about the most trouble with two different on-track incidents that brought out the red flag.
Devlin DeFrancesco was the first to spin in Turn 4, bringing out red flag at a time when only three cars had made laps at that point. After DeFrancesco’s spin, the session went back green with five minutes remaining.
Then came the second red flag of the session, courtesy of Colton Herta. The driver of the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda was one of the fastest in last year’s race and was quick again this year, but the same type of crash that befell him last year resurfaced in qualifying.
Carrying too much speed into Turn 4, Herta overshot the turn, making contact with the tire barrier with a minute left on the board, bringing out the red and ultimately ending the session. Herta was stripped of his fastest lap as a result and will start the 2022 edition of the Music City Grand Prix in 21st.
“That was just a little bit too ambitious for what the conditions were,” Herta said. “I think after it rained a lot of that grip fell away. Just trying to find the right braking point. I just overdid it. It’s hard when you put on these reds and they’re one lap, two lap tires. You really have to go after it.
“I apologize to my team, especially to Andretti because I really screwed over Rossi pretty good too and a few other guys. I don’t try and do that on purpose. It’s really an honest mistake, so I feel bad for everybody involved.”
With qualifying in the books, all that remains in a quick warm-up session at 10:15 am ET on Sunday, followed by the 80-lap Big Machine Music City Grand Prix at 3:00 pm ET on NBC.