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McLaughlin takes pole in frenetic qualifying in Nashville

McLaughlin takes pole in frenetic qualifying in Nashville

Scott McLaughlin won the NTT P1 Award for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on Saturday and took his second pole in his final flying lap in the Firestone Fast Six.

McLaughlin’s best lap was 1 minute 14.555 seconds in the #3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary road course that includes two runs per lap over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge. The pole came after New Zealand driver McLaughlin led practice at 1:15.4609 earlier in the day.

TO SEE: Qualifying Results

“The car was phenomenal,” said McLaughlin. “We did that in one lap, with used tires. One of those good laps.”

The start of qualifying was delayed by two hours and 30 minutes due to thunder and lightning that swept through downtown Nashville this afternoon. The rain changed the grip level of the tricky, bumpy street circuit.

2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year McLaughlin’s previous pole came in February at the St. Petersburg season-opening Firestone Grand Prix, which he won from first place for his first win in his career series. He also won the Honda Indy 200 in Mid-Ohio in early July, presented by the all-new 2023 Civic Type R from the second starting spot.

“You know what, this DEX car is really good, man,” McLaughlin said. “We went really fast in this car. Won the St. Pete opener with it. We won Mid-Ohio and now we are on pole in Nashville, which is a great track.”

Live coverage of the 80-lap race begins Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network. A 30-minute warm-up begins at 10:15 a.m. ET, with live coverage on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Romain Grosjean will join McLaughlin on the front row on Sunday after his best lap of 1:14.6975 the No. 28 DHL Honda. This was the best qualifying attempt of the season for the Frenchman, whose previous best start was fifth in the season opener in St. Petersburg.

Rookie Christian Lundgaard continued his impressive weekend by qualifying a career-best third at 1:14.7149 in the #30 Shield Cleansers Honda. The Dane’s previous best start was fourth place in the road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last August.

Lundgaard, who led practice on Friday, came to Nashville after taking the career best second place finish in the Gallagher Grand Prix on the IMS road course last Saturday.

Next to Lundgaard in Row 2 is reigning Series Champion Alex Palou, who qualified fourth at 1:14.9087 in the #10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Pato O’Ward qualified fifth at 1:14.9261 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Two-time series champion and Nashville-area native Josef Newgarden completed the Firestone Fast Six at 01:15.1461 in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet.

Newgarden made an interesting gamble that didn’t pay off. He was the only driver in the Firestone Fast Six to qualify on primary Firestone tires. The other five drivers used alternative Firestone tires, which this weekend are made from rubber derived from the drought-resistant guayule shrub native to the American Southwest. The primary tire lasts longer, but doesn’t have as much grip as the alternate tire.

Still, Newgarden, O’Ward and Palou are the trio of the top six drivers in the standings who will start the treacherous street race from the front three rows. Points leader Will Power, 2022 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson and six-time champion Scott Dixon weren’t so lucky.

Power, who is nine points ahead of Ericsson with four races to go, will start eighth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. He lost his fastest lap of the second round of qualifying, which would have moved him to the Firestone Fast Six, when he was penalized for causing a local yellow that affected O’Ward’s lap late in that session. The stream ran for a long time in an outlet area.

“It’s always difficult in qualifying with track position and penalties and being caught by red (flags),” said Power. “It’s no different. It’s hard.”

Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Dixon and Ericsson did not make it out of the first round of qualifying. Dixon will start 14th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda as he pursues his record-breaking seventh season championship.

Ericsson will start 18th in the field with 26 cars in the number 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. But he can take heart knowing that he won the inaugural race at this track last year from the same starting spot.

“We have to come up with a good strategy and play the race as it comes,” Ericsson said. “There have been a lot of incidents this weekend, just like last year. I think there are still opportunities. We’re just missing a bit too much speed at the moment.”

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