It wasn’t luck that allowed Dalton Kellett to earn his best road or street course start of his career. Give credit where it’s due: It was smarts and strategy paying off with the happiest of upsets.
Taking note of the seemingly endless stream of yellow and red flags that stained last year’s Nashville Grand Prix, the Canadian and his A.J. Foyt Racing team had no intention of sitting on pit lane, as many entries so often do at the start of their qualifying round, and letting the 10-minute clock wind down to five or six minutes to go before heading out to put in a fast lap.
Instead, Kellett and the No. 4 Chevy got to work right away, and to help their chances of posting a meaningful lap, Firestone’s fastest tires — the high-grip/short-life alternates featuring a green band on the sidewalls this weekend — were bolted onto the car for early and late runs
The decision meant that when not one, but two red flags brought halts to the opening qualifying session, Kellett had a quick time that was already recorded while those who waited until the last few minutes to perform theirs were caught out by Colton Herta’s crash as the session reached its final minute.
Thanks to the red flag for Herta’s damaged and stalled Andretti Autosport entry, all of the faster drivers who were in the middle of their best laps had to throttle back and abandon their runs.
In any normal knockout qualifying session where all the drivers are able to lap without interruption, Kellett would not have qualified anywhere near P12, but you can’t blame the 28-year-old astronomy lover and his Foyt team for giving themselves the best chances of delivering a stunner in qualifying at a track that loves to trigger stoppages.
“We just posted our best qualifying of the 2022 season so far,” Kellett said. “We made the right call doing green-green for that Q1 session and managed to transfer. It seems like when we can get the tires to activate quickly and really just make it happen on that first lap, we seem to have an advantage there. We really press that advantage by just making sure we got ahead of the order of things, as far as greens coming out, to transfer, so that’s something to look at. [Making the Fast 12] was one of our goals for the year. Really happy we could make it happen here in Nashville.”
Among those who were disadvantaged by the combination of their late fast-lap runs and the timing of Herta’s red flag, Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud was particularly upset by what happened. As IndyCar chose not to restart the session and use the one minute left on the clock—which would have been meaningless to the drivers, who would have needed at least two laps to get up to speed—the Frenchman asked why the series does not guaranteed 10 minutes of green-flag running in each knockout round.
“I am so frustrated because the same thing happened to us in Toronto,” he said. “We can wait all day for the storms to pass, but then we don’t get an opportunity to all put a lap down. I did one lap on [alternates before the red for Herta]. I’m speechless because it is such a shame because you don’t get to perform at your level and now we are going to start again where we don’t belong.”
Pagenaud will start P13, and behind him, Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist will roll off in P15, who acknowledged the downside of sitting and burning time at the start of a street course qualifying session.
“Just annoying. I didn’t even have [a fast] lap,” he said. “We had one warmup lap [on alternate tires], so I guess that’s one. It’s something we have to look at. Maybe we should have gone straight out of the pits and tried to do a lap.”
Kellett has an angry swarm of front-running drivers who will be gunning for the No. 4 Chevy on Sunday. He knows the likes of Pagenaud, Rosenqvist, Herta, Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, and more will likely motor ahead of his car, but that’s a concern for tomorrow.
For now, he has one message to share: “Very proud of this team overall for the result that we got here today.”