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Music City Grand Prix talking points

For the second year in a row, the IndyCar Series took on the streets of Nashville, running a downtown circuit around Nissan Stadium and across the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge in front of a mammoth crowd, though not without an enforced delay thanks to Mother Nature.

Much like a year ago, there was a lot of craziness.

Here are all the talking points from an unforgettable – but not necessarily for positive reasons – weekend in Nashville:

Scott Dixon wins

Clearly, you don’t really need any sort of race strategy if you’re a Chip Ganassi Racing driver wanting to win on the streets of Nashville. In eerily similar circumstances to one year ago, a Ganassi driver found himself caught up in an early incident with an AJ Foyt driver, and somehow went on to carve their way through the pack for a win.

Last year it was Marcus Ericsson coming together with Sebastien Bourdais and this year Dixon with Dalton Kellett. The Kiwi had to enter a closed pit for service, which dropped him to the rear of the field. No worries, for the Ice Man.

Of course, both races were littered with cautions – and plenty of good drivers taken out by others in events not of their doing – which helps vault a car through the field and Dixon took advantage of pitting just before a full-course caution on lap 51, but nonetheless, coming from the back to the front in the competitive IndyCar Series is no mean feat.

Dixon’s win, in which he led fifteen laps, is the fifty-third of his illustrious career, and breaks a tie with the legendary Mario Andretti for second on the all-time IndyCar Series wins list. He now trails only four-time Indianapolis 500 winner AJ Foyt, who has a massive sixty-seven career wins.

I’d suggest that Dixon probably won’t better that mark, but the man hasn’t slowed down into his forties, so who really knows?

It was a New Zealand 1-2 on the streets of Nashville, with Team Penske’s polesitter Scott McLaughlin, who led twenty-two laps and was arguably the dominant car of the weekend, trailing Dixon home by 0.1067 seconds, the fourth-closest road or street course margin of victory in IndyCar Series history, the showdown set up by a late red flag.

Dixon’s teammate, reigning IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou, was third at the end of a chaotic day. Ganassi are two for two at the Music City GP, and after heartbreak at the Indianapolis 500, Dixon has two wins and five top-5 finishes in his last six races.

Nashville was a hard-to-watch crash fest

Just as well the racetrack looks good and the Music City crowd was massive, despite a giant thunderstorm that significantly delayed the green flag, because the racing on the streets of Nashville was, for the second year in a row, pretty average – and that’s me being polite in my assessment of what we saw on Sunday.

A full forty-six percent of the eighty-lap contest was run under yellow, with ten separate full-course caution periods bringing out the pace car. Smashville, indeed. That’s not what racing purists want to see. IndyCar brags that it is the best racing in the world – and, for the most part, I agree – but the one hundred and sixty laps we’ve seen around Music City combined over the last two seasons has been so far from world’s best it isn’t funny.

IndyCar fans often laugh at NASCAR for their crash fest races at places like Daytona and Talladega, but this was basically the same, just with no doors or roofs and on a tight street circuit instead of a giant superspeedway, and we’ve seen it two years running.

The so-called modifications to the track did little to prevent half the field from crashing. In fact, only fifteen of twenty-six cars were running at the end. That isn’t my idea of racing entertainment.

This isn’t the product IndyCar should be putting forward. If Sunday was your first look at IndyCar, you’re probably not going to bother returning next year. And eventually, the big crowd is going to dwindle because no one wants to watch the pace car lead the field for basically half a race, no matter how cool the cars look racing over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge and around the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

I can’t imagine the post-race debrief with Roger Penske is going to go very well. The series owner would be keenly aware that the on-track product was sub-par for two straight years. Last year’s wild race might have been put down to a case of first year blues had Sunday’s return visit not been much the same – or worse – and I daresay we might see some significant changes before the series returns.

Yes, Nashville is a great place to hold an event and the shots of cars racing over the Cumberland River look amazing, but those visuals shouldn’t come at the expense of the great racing we see at other street circuits.

The points situation

Dixon’s win has tightened things up at the top of the points table with three races – St Louis, Portland and Laguna Seca – remaining before the series champion is crowned. Dixon is now just six points back of Will Power.

Power’s eleventh place finish wasn’t ideal, but it could have been worse for the Aussie, as it was for fellow championship contender Pato O’Ward of McLaren, who finished third-last in twenty-fourth and is out of the chase.

With the momentum Dixon has, he’s going to take some stopping.

Next stop, St Louis

The fourth annual Gateway event is up next for the IndyCar Series, and we are going to learn a lot about the direction of the championship at the end of 260 laps around the egg-shaped 1.25-mile oval across the Mississippi from St Louis.

Green flag is just after 8:00am (Australian eastern time) on Sunday August 22. Live, commercial-free streaming coverage on Stan Sport and on IndyCar Radio via the IndyCar app.

I will be on the ground in St Louis across the weekend, very excited to see my first live IndyCar Series action since the 2019 Indianapolis 500.

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