Dixon edges McLaughlin to win in Nashville chaos

Michael Levitt/Lumen

Dixon edges McLaughlin to win in Nashville chaos

IndyCar

Dixon edges McLaughlin to win in Nashville chaos

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Last year’s inaugural Nashville Grand Prix had nine cautions and was remembered for being a wild show that ended with a most unexpected winner in Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson, who crashed early in the race but recovered to reach victory lane in what was dubbed the “Music City Miracle.”

For anyone who thought it would be impossible for the second edition of the Tennessean street race to be as bad as the first…well, think again. After eight cautions and nearly half of the race — 36 of 80 laps — spent behind the pace car, 2022 had significant parallels to 2021 as Ericsson’s teammate Scott Dixon got tangled in a crash and managed to overcome the adversity and score his second win of the season.

Dixon won an all-New Zealand drag race to rip across the finish line just 0.1067s ahead of Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin after a late red flag turned the event into a two-lap sprint where the No. 9 CGR Honda — with a broken left-rear diffuser and mangled strake — held off the charging No. 3 Chevy to give Ganassi a perfect record at the crash-happiest venue on the calendar.

CGR’s Alex Palou survived to take the last podium spot despite spending half of the race with a broken left-front wing which he needlessly damaged after hitting Penske’s Will Power while making a pass on the bridge. His No. 10 Honda was 0.6100s behind Dixon at the checkered flag.

“Kudos to the team,” Dixon said. “We had a big crash there and took half the floor off the car. We had to take four turns the front wing out so we had no grip, and then I think we did about 45 or 50 laps on that last set of tires; we didn’t even take tires [on the last pit stop] so huge credit to Firestone. Aww man, Nashville is so awesome.”

The win moved Dixon into sole passion of second on the all-time IndyCar win list with 53, trailing only A.J. Foyt at 67. For polesitter McLaughlin, who looks up to Dixon as a national hero, the drag race was a dream come true, minus the finishing second part.

“Just fell short at the end but congrats to Scotty,” he said. “Always dreamed of racing him to the finish, but that was a proper duel and I had a lot of fun. That’s why I came IndyCar racing — this is the best racing in the world.”

Starting fourth, Palou was in the mix all day, leading more laps than anyone with 31, but as the endless cautions shuffled strategies, he was forced to settle for third.

“Every day you’re on the podium is a good day,” he said after getting a hug from Chip Ganassi. “Got some points back for the championship.”

The incessant hits, spins, and crashes resulted in only 13 of the 26 drivers making it to the finish. Behind Palou, two drivers who didn’t expect to be there took fourth and fifth as Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta overcame a meeting with the wall (Herta) on lap 3 and a stalled car (Rossi) on lap 8 that left both drivers a lap down just minutes into the contest.

Swift repairs and smart use of the cautions to unlap themselves, coupled with aggressive driving, saved Andretti’s day after front-row starter Romain Grosjean ended up in the wall during a clash with Josef Newgarden and Devlin DeFrancesco drew the ire of Takuma Sato after an ill-fated passing attempt put both drivers into the wall.

“This place is pretty wild,” Rossi said. “I think that’s as good as a win. Huge thank you to the team for hanging in there.”

“I’m happy with how we came back, not only from starting at the back, but also being a lap down at some point that doesn’t happen too often,” said Herta, who complimented his pit crew for gaining many positions for the No. 26 Honda on the day.

A chippy Newgarden, who wasn’t interested in hearing Grosjean’s side of the story, completed the top six. After the Penske driver, some remarkable performances were recorded as Felix Rosenqvist charged from 15th to seventh as Arrow McLaren SP teammate Pato O’Ward was hit from behind by Graham Rahal and lost drive as a result of the contact. He fell to 24th.

Rahal, for his part, was involved in three crashes, including one while trying to drive back to the pits after crashing into the back of O’Ward. He’d finish 23rd.

Adding to the fun, Rahal’s hit to the back of O’Ward also drove O’Ward into the back of championship leader Power who got off lighter than O’Ward, but did suffer gear shifting problems from lap 26 onward and lost time with each shift. He’d salvage 11th.

Rahal’s rookie teammate Christian Lundgaard was a rocket for most of the afternoon but sank to eighth in the two-lap sprint to the finish; he restarted second behind Dixon.

The hits-to-the-gearbox problems didn’t stop with Power and O’Ward. What appeared to be a relatively minor knock from behind by Herta caused Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson to lose out on a top-10 finish. He lost drive, was restarted, and lost drive again as he finished 14th, the last car out of the race.

Jimmie Johnson wrecked by himself. David Malukas and Kyle Kirkwood were on pace for their best IndyCar finishes, but they crashed out of seventh and eighth respectively. Callum Ilott had a flat tire and hit Rossi. Rahal nosed into the wall and Rinus VeeKay was unable to avoid running into him. The big traffic jam that hurt Power, O’Ward, and Rahal, also ended the days of Dalton Kellett and Simona De Silvestro.

In that jam, Dixon was sent flying a short distance as he was lifted up from behind — where his lasting damage occurred. Helio Castroneves spun and stalled leaving the pits. Simon Pagenaud hit the back of Palou’s car. There must have been 50 other incidents that left noses, wings, sidepods, floors, wheels, and tires in sorry shape.

A full 46 percent of the race was run behind the pace car, up from 43 percent in 2021. Last year, 30 percent of the field failed to finish; this year, it reached the staggering 50-percent mark. The only area of improvement came with cautions — down from nine to eight — and penalties, also down from nine to eight.

The series now moves on to the Bomarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug. 20.

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