Nashville Preview

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After almost a year of hype and hoopla, the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is finally here. There has been more hype for this new race than any I can remember – and I don’t think it is because I am a Nashville resident. It seems the entire racing community has been anticipating this race for months. The question is – can any event live up to such hype? With what the event organizers have done within their control, I think it can. They have tried to make the fan experience as fulfilling as possible in their planning.

There are a few things they cannot control. One is the weather. It appears that Mother Nature is going to be kind to the inaugural running of this event. The biggest threat of rain is today (Friday), but that only stands at 40%.Today’s high will be 86°F. Saturdays high will be 88°F, with only a 25% chance of rain. Race Day on Sunday calls for only a 10% chance of rain, with an expected high of 91°F.

That could drop, as the temperature predictions have lowered all week. On Monday, Sunday’s projected high temp was 95°. It’s good that this event didn’t take place last week, when temperatures were bumping up against 100° for several days and violent thunderstorms went through on Saturday night. While some may think 92° sounds way too hot – this is August in Tennessee. Based on history, this is going to be a very pleasant weekend.

The other main factor that is now out of anyone’s control is the track itself. While many are applauding the Chamber of Commerce aerial shots that will look spectacular as the cars cross the Cumberland River, no one really knows what to expect from the race itself. Will it be a parade? Will the two long straightaways provide enough passing zones to keep things interesting? Will the tight pit lane entrance and exit cause unnecessary or unforeseen problems. That is the biggest question I have heading into my hometown race.

Quite honestly, I was very skeptical about the track layout when I first saw it on paper (computer monitor). Taking my car and following the proposed course did nothing to assuage my skepticism. It just seemed way too tight in the two slower areas that were connected by the long straightaways over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge. It was hard for me to visualize what it was going to look like with Indy cars fighting for the same piece of real estate in those tight corners.

After seeing the video of Romain Grosjean in the simulator that I posted here on Wednesday – I actually feel much better about the track. I think there are going to be more passing zones than I originally thought. Still, no one will fully know until Sunday. Practice this afternoon and Saturday, along with Saturday’s qualifying sessions will give us an idea, but we won’t truly know until the green flag flies as they are coming down the bridge headed into Turn Nine.

Susan and I went to a luncheon event in downtown Nashville on Wednesday. Mark Miles was the guest speaker, but event organizers were also present. It was sponsored by Pinnacle Bank, one of the partners for the Grand Prix. It’s not our bank; but a friend of ours that works there, knew we would be interested, so he invited us as his guests. It was a conversation with Miles, moderated by veteran racing broadcaster Ralph Sheheen – who will also serve as the PA announcer this weekend.

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That morning on this site, a commenter named “Andrew” posed a question that I asked about in the Q&A portion of the luncheon. Andrew had asked about how the race was going to affect the Exxon station just inside Turn Nine. I hadn’t thought about that, so I asked it at the luncheon. I found the response from the President of the Music City Grand Prix interesting.

As part of the sanctioning agreement, IndyCar requires that any event organizer be responsible for arrangements for any interruption in service to the surrounding community. The Quality Inn on the easternmost side of the track was given as an example. By cutting off their entrance for the weekend, lots of IndyCar and team personnel were put up there for the weekend, so as not to interrupt their revenue over the weekend. The Exxon Station was a different matter. Without going into detail, he said that it was decided to close the Exxon Station for the four-day weekend and make an undisclosed financial arrangement with them. These are some of the hidden costs that come with running a temporary street race.

There are lots of other activities already going on. Last night, we attended Josef Newgarden’s Celebrity Ping Pong for charity. Many top drivers such as Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi, points-leader Alex Palou and many others were on-hand with several Titans players and other local celebrities. We did get one shot with Susan and Helio Castroneves, that we could not resist. It’s hard to pass up a photo-op with the newest member of the four-time winners club.

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Ping-Pong isn’t really my thing, but it was interesting to see who was good and not-so-good. I caught a shot of the not-so-good Colton Herta teaming up with the equally bad Romain Grosjean.

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I’ll tell you who was good – Scott McLaughlin. Here is a shot of Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and NASCAR’s Ryan Blaney, who made a formidable pair. Here they are watching McLaughlin play.

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In the end, it was Newgarden and Blaney wrapping up the title, for Newgarden’s third straight time to win his own tournament. It was a fun night and all for a good cause. They raised $136,000 last night and presented a check to the SeriousFun Children’s Network – one of the many charities founded by the late Paul Newman.

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We had planned to go  to the free-admission Fan Fest on Broadway for the pit-stop competition, but we ended up staying at the Ping-Pong Tournament. Unfortunately, both events were scheduled at the same time (5:30 to 7:30). Some one needs to better job of coordinating event times in future years.

Events like the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix always have a few bumps along the way, especially in their first year. If I had to guess one source of discontent among fans, it will be the parking situation. We are extremely lucky that with our media credentials comes a coveted spot in the media parking lot, just behind Nissan Stadium. There is not a ton of parking around the stadium during Titan’s games, but what normally exists on NFL Sunday’s has been taken up by the pits, the paddock, hospitality coaches, concert stages and temporary seating. Parking in downtown Nashville is always an issue, and I expect it to be an issue this weekend. There are free shuttles set up among the top downtown hotels, but for those staying in a hotel outside of the downtown area – I’m not quite sure what their options outside of Uber are.

On Monday morning, I will be shocked if I don’t see a lot of grumbling about the parking situation. The thing is, I’m not sure what can be done about it.

So now we get down to the race itself. It seems like Mid-Ohio was six months ago, when Josef Newgarden finally broke through with a win for himself and Team Penske for the first time in 2021. Although Newgarden came away with winner’s points, the main man he is chasing – NTT IndyCar Series points leader Alex Palou – finished third, so not much of a dent was made in Palou’s lead. Newgarden is currently fourth in points; trailing Palou, Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon respectively. O’Ward is thirty-nine points behind Palou, while Dixon trails the points leading Spaniard by fifty-six points.

Fans of any of those three drivers hope that Palou has a bad weekend in Nashville, if their driver has any hopes of catching him over these final six races. They might get their wish as Palou has not had his best results on temporary street circuits. Going back to last season, his average finish on temporary street circuits has been twelfth.

There will be twenty-seven cars in this race. Helio Castroneves will be making his first IndyCar appearance since capturing his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 back in May. He will be in a two-tone blue car, coincidentally similar to the colors of the Tennessee Titans, with sponsorship from Transcard.

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Santino Ferrucci returns to the No. 45 Hyvee car from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Other non-fulltime entries include Cody Ware and those running the road and street course programs only – Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean.

There will be other series on-track this weekend. The Trans Am Series along with the SRO GT America Series will have significant track time along with their respective races. Robby Gordon’s Super Trucks will be on hand along with the Vintage Indy cars. With all of the constant track activity and concerts going on two different stages, including Brooks & Dunn, Jon Pardi, the Oak Ridge Boys and Alan Jackson – there should be enough to keep everyone entertained.

Except for Sunday’s race, all TV broadcasts will be limited this weekend to Peacock – NBC’s streaming service. This is due to the Olympics cluttering up all of NBC’s available platforms. The race itself will be shown live at 5:30 pm EDT on NBCSN. Practice One will take place on Friday at 4:10 pm EDT. Practice Two will be on Saturday at 1:00 pm EDT, with qualifying at 4:30 pm EDT. The Sunday warm up will run for thirty minutes starting at 1:00 pm EDT. All practices and qualifying will be shown live on Peacock, as well as archived there.

With this track being a clean slate for everyone, where no one has raced on it before – I expect a veteran driver to win this race. As good as they both are, I don’t classify Palou or O’Ward as veteran drivers. I suspect the winning driver on Sunday to come from the ranks of a Scott Dixon, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi or even Ryan Hunter-Reay (who is rumored to be out at Andretti at the end of the season).

Will Power has the best track record among current drivers of performing very well at new events. James Hinchcliffe won the one and only race at NOLA, back in 2015. I don’t think either of them will win on Sunday.

My pick is the hometown boy, Josef Newgarden to go down in history as the very first winner of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. It’s not just because that’s a script straight out of Hollywood, but I think that now that he has broken into the win column – his team has momentum on their side, despite the fact that we are wrapping up a five-week break from racing. Newgarden will win on Sunday and Team Penske will become the first team this season to win back-to-back races. Not only that, I predict that Alex Palou will suffer that bad weekend and this points race will suddenly be very tight as the teams pull out Sunday night to head up to Indianapolis for IndyCar’s portion of the Brickyard weekend.

Susan and I will be at the track all weekend long, with both of us posting here throughout each day of the race weekend; so please check back here often for updates. We will also be posting photos, videos and comments on Twitter all weekend. Follow me at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back later.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Nashville Preview”

  1. Sounds like a great weekend coming up even if the parking is poor. At the street courses I have attended ( Long Beach, Valencia, Monaco, Birmingham uk ) I never considered driving due to good public transport or just walking. Hopefully that will be the case for the majority of attendees this weekend.

    Two questions,

    will it be extremely hot again for the drivers

    is the pit lane going to cause problems being I believe on a bend and narrow.

    Looking forward to your postings. Thank you.

  2. I have a parking pass for the Courthouse garage. I have no idea how to get there. I am considering Uber instead.

  3. You guys enjoy your home race this weekend!
    Off topic – I subscribe to PeacockTV solely for IndyCar. I wish they would show the races live on it as well as practices and qualifying.

  4. Hi George, I am glad you were able to ask my question and that it was a good one apparently. It was a bit of a passing thought I had as I read Wednesday’s post but it does make sense to ask and it’s an interesting idea that they need to take care of impacted businesses. Some of the fantasy tracks I see people come up with, I will now always wonder what businesses are in the area and how they would be impacted.

    Also, isn’t it true that space at St Pete is so tight that they actually work on cars in a parking garage nearby? I heard that rumor somewhere.

    Hoping you and Susan have a great time, it’s a great race with a fun winner. Kind of pulling for RHR this weekend but also wouldn’t be sad seeing Josef win at home.

    • That is correct regarding St. Pete. I’d say most of the teams are in the parking garage and have to have lighting equipment, so they can see to work on the cars.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I almost think there might have been more pressure on Newgarden to win the ping pong tournament than there will be on him to perform well in his home race. Making table tennis equipment is a family business for him, after all.

    Newgarden has no more mulligans to cash in if he wants to win the championship. Neither does Dixon. Both can win the title, but both will need to finish ahead of Palou and O’Ward and in the top 5-6. Given that it is a new course, I think we’ll see a couple of surprises in the top 10… but probably not at the top of the podium.

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