Photo: Brandon K. Carter/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: 2023 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

The city of Nashville is a whole different vibe and it’ll be that way for the foreseeable future.

Due to the planned renovations at Nissan Stadium, this weekend will be the last Music City Grand Prix within stadium grounds. The race will soldier on a different street location with the rumor mill suggesting that beginning in 2024, INDYCAR’s finale will be near Lower Broadway in Nashville.

For now, all eyes are on surviving the hellacious madness the street course provides as both previous races were marred by accidents. In large part of how narrow some corners are which they’ve tried to fix each year.

Due to this, it’s anybody’s game this Sunday. As proven in its first race when Marcus Ericsson earned the moniker of “Air Marcus” after running into the back of Sebastien Bourdais catapulted his No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda mid-air, but continued his race.

Cautions breed cautions ultimately led to Ericsson’s comeback and scored the win.

One man who’ll look to turn his season around is Colton Herta, who had the 2021 race won until a late-race error ended his day. Last year, Herta finished fifth after starting 23rd as he’s one of several drivers who are still winless in 2023 which includes defending race winner Scott Dixon.

With five rounds remaining, time is running out for those guys to get back on top of the podium.

Out of the 27 drivers on the grid, one driver will be making his long-awaited INDYCAR debut. Linus Lundqvist was tapped to fill-in for Simon Pagenaud in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda.

With Lundqvist making a start, it’ll mark the 13th consecutive year where the defending Indy NXT champion made an INDYCAR start the following year.

“This is a moment I’ve been dreaming of literally since the start of my career. I could not be more excited about the prospect of finally making my NTT IndyCar Series debut,” said Lundqvist. “I am extremely grateful to Meyer Shank Racing for this opportunity. This will be an incredible experience, but also the toughest challenge of my life.

“Sitting on the sidelines all year, it would be a massive task to join any championship towards the end of the season – let alone the NTT IndyCar Series on the streets of Nashville. There’s been very little time to prepare, but I feel like the sheer excitement of this moment will make up for some of that.”

Despite a much earlier race start time, the championship trail will still have its unpredictable chaos. Perhaps this Sunday could see the latest twist that could change the outcome of several racers on what’s been an already compelling campaign.

By the Numbers

What: Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 13 of 17

Where: Streets of Nashville – Nashville, Tennessee (Opened: 2021; First INDYCAR Race: 2021)

When: Sunday, August 6

TV/Radio: NBC & Peacock 12:00 p.m. ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channels 85 & 160)

Track Size: 2.1-mile street course

Race Length: 80 laps, 168 miles

2022 Race Winner: Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started 14th, 15 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Colton Herta – No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:13.6835, 102.601 mph – August 7, 2021)

From the Driver’s Seat

Marcus Armstrong – No. 11 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

“I’d like to be there or thereabouts in the first practice, just chip away at the pace because I know we’re always going to progress properly through the weekend.

I think for the race itself, staying out of trouble would be a big one, seeing it’s fairly chaotic judging from the past couple years. Then being at the pointy end, whether that be a podium or a top five I couldn’t tell you if I’m happy because it’s all relative.

“If I’m leading the whole race and I end up finishing fifth because I lose it on the last lap, I’ll be pretty angry. But it’s all relative.”

Last Time in Nashville

On a day where once again attrition and strategy were key, a milestone occurred in Nashville.

No room for catastrophic mistakes, the race was slowed down nine times for 36 laps, but one driver who endured trouble early on still prevailed.

After rolling off 14th and overcoming pit stop woes, Scott Dixon found himself in the lead late in the going. However, Dixon had to fend off fellow Kiwi Scott McLaughlin and the series of full course cautions.

Similar to 2021, a late-race red flag set up a shootout where Dixon fought hard to deny McLaughlin the victory. What turned out to be the closest street course finish in INDYCAR history, Dixon scored his 53rd career win by 0.170 seconds.

Dixon’s most recent INDYCAR victory surpassed Mario Andretti as the second-winningest driver in history. Only AJ Foyt remains left for Dixon to chase down as Foyt’s 67 victories is still the sport’s standard.

“It was a wild day. We had a good start. I thought things were going well, and then we came in for the first stop, and the air jacks failed or the hose failed. We went all the way to the back and got into the chaos in turn five or six and just got rolled over the back and hit pretty hard,” Dixon on his race.

“Actually, we couldn’t get the wheel off because it was stuck on the brake caliper. Took the team a lot of time to get that off, but then it ripped a bunch of the underfloor off of the car as well and all the strakes.

“The car was bent and broken, but for us I think strategy-wise to take no tires on that last stop was probably the key. We were able to jump a couple and have enough fuel to get towards the end, and to the end, but it was very difficult to drive,” Dixon continued.

“The car just had no grip. Each time we had a restart, I was just praying for another accident. Some of those came. Some of them didn’t. Another lap with McLaughlin would have been extremely tough to hold him off. He was just super fast, and I think just in a better situation.

“Really cool to have a New Zealand one-two.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, August 4

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (4:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. – Peacock)

Saturday, August 5

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (11:40 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (2:45 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 3 (6:25 p.m. to 6:55 p.m. – Peacock)

Sunday, August 6

  • Indy NXT Race (10:05 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. – Peacock)
  • Big Machine Music City Grand Prix (12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. – NBC & Peacock)

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.