David Malsher-Lopez

Nashville IndyCar: Dixon triumphs through the chaos

After 1hr45mins delay due to lightning in the area, the race got underway and despite damp patches around the track, all cars started on dry tires, with the top five on alternates, but Josef Newgarden and Will Power on primary compound rubber. However, further rain was sprinkling – fortunately without bringing more lightning.

The initial start saw Scott McLaughlin convert pole position into the lead but Romain Grosjean’s efforts to tuck in behind him squeezed Christian Lundgaard into the wall, forcing him to lose momentum and allow Palou around his outside into Turn 9 (the first turn at the start of the race). Behind them, Pato O’Ward ran fifth, but David Malukas on alternate tires had no problem slipping past Newgarden on primaries, and two laps later Simon Pagenaud did the same to Power for the same reason.

Andretti Autosport saw Colton Herta fail to complete an outside pass on Dalton Kellett’s AJ Foyt Racing-Chevy and find the tire wall, necessitating a pitstop for a new front wing. Teammate Alexander Rossi, also starting artificially far back, also pitted but to get off his alternates and onto primary tires.

Up front, McLaughlin edged out to a 1.4sec lap over Grosjean, with Palou following the Andretti car from a similar distance but under pressure from Lundgaard. O’Ward ran fifth ahead of Malukas, Newgarden, Pagenaud, Power and Graham Rahal. In 11th, Scott Dixon was up from 14th on the grid, but his teammate Marcus Ericsson had lost ground thanks to a penalty for jumping the start.

The first caution came out on Lap 8, for Rossi running long and then stalling at Turn 10. He was bumpstarted but like teammate Herta, he was now a lap down. He thus took the opportunity to pit again, as did Helio Castroneves and Jimmie Johnson.

The race resumed on Lap 11, and O’Ward got around Lundgaard for fourth, while Newgarden, Pagenaud and Power demoted Malukas to ninth, and Rinus VeeKay slotted his Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevy ahead of Dixon.

On Lap 13, Lundgaard made a superb move around the outside of O’Ward after outbraking the AMSP driver into Turn 4 and reclaiming fourth.

Rahal passed Malukas for ninth on Lap 17, perhaps signaling the start of the alternate tires starting to go off, and the Coyne driver would keep dropping until pitting for primaries. On Lap 18, Newgarden grabbed fifth from O’Ward, while Pagenaud ducked into the pits to get off his alternates and onto primaries, allowing Power to close up on O’Ward.

Not wishing to get stranded should a caution fly, Palou pitted from third with heavily worn rear tires – and sure enough, the caution flew! Castroneves had spun his MSR car exiting Turn 3.

When the pits opened, all those who hadn’t stopped yet grabbed the opportunity, leaving Palou up front feeling like the luckiest man in the world, ahead of Jimmie Johnson, Pagenaud, Kyle Kirkwood and Malukas. McLaughlin emerged in sixth ahead of Grosjean, Power, Lundgaard, O’Ward, Newgarden and Rahal. However, this order didn’t last long, and neither did the green flag period.

Rahal drove into the back of O’Ward at Turn 6, breaking his front wing, and pushing the AMSP car into the rear of Power’s Penske. O’Ward’s car lost drive from the impact and coasted to a halt, while Rahal understeered into the wall at Turn 7. With his front wing then jammed under his front wheels he made hard contact with the wall on the bridge, and by the time he got back to the pits his car was too damaged to continue.

Their incident had had knock on effects further back, eliminating Kellett and De Silvestro, and delaying Callum Ilott who stalled.

Dixon skirted around most of the issues, but suffered a puncture, and also another rear wheel issue.

The restart on Lap 34 saw Palou leading Pagenaud, Malukas, McLaughlin, Johnson, Kirkwood, Power, Lundgaard and Felix Rosenqvist to the green. At the previous restart, Newgarden had trod very carefully and found himself elbowed down to 14th, behind one of his championship rivals Ericsson. The racing restarted just long enough for Kirkwood and Grosjean to get around Johnson, and for VeeKay to demote Lundgaard, and then the yellows flew, not for Ilott and Rossi disappearing down the Turn 9 escape road, but for Devlin De Francesco and Takuma Sato colliding with each other and a wall. The pair would limp to the pits, and were retired.

When the pits opened, Newgarden and Dixon pitted again, emerging in 17th and 18th respectively, with primary tires.

The Lap 42 restart saw Palou tagged by Pagenaud but he held on into Turn 9, while McLaughlin muscled past Malukas, and VeeKay jumped Power to grab eighth. A lap later, he disposed of Johnson, taking full advantage of his alternates.

McLaughlin was keen to get after Palou, and into Turn 11 he dived past the Meyer Shank-Honda, and half a lap later Malukas also demoted Pagenaud, with Grosjean moving past his compatriot into Lap 44. Kirkwood also got around the purple car, the MSR driver complaining of a diff issue giving him too much wheelspin out of corners. On Lap 46, he lost sixth to VeeKay, on Lap 47 Rosenqvist was through, too.

Meanwhile, Power’s day was getting worse too, the strike from the innocent O’Ward giving him gearbox issues and causing him to drop down the field to 12th on Lap 47, behind prime title rival Ericsson. Then Rossi passed the #12 Penske on Lap 49.

Power, Dixon, Lundgaard and VeeKay pitted on Lap 50, and the first three of these counted themselves very lucky, for although VeeKay got around the crippled Verizon Penske, further around the lap he ran into the back of Rahal who had been restarted from around 25 laps down, but had struck the Turn 4 wall.

Under the subsequent yellow, all the erstwhile frontrunners ducked into the pits, leaving Newgarden up front – but needing another stop – ahead of Dixon, Lundgaard, Power, Harvey. Palou emerged at the head of the recent in sixth, while McLaughlin had a slow stop and ended up 15th. He would swiftly set about remedying that. As Palou moved past Power – soon to be followed by Malukas and Herta – McLaughlin was already eighth and he ducked past Power whose gearbox was in emergency mode, so he had to lift on upshifts. Power would drop behind Kirkwood, Grosjean, Ericsson, Rossi by Lap 62 of the 80.

Newgarden was by now going flat out, unable to eke out his fuel to the finish, so knowing he’d have to make a late stop. His teammate McLaughlin moved into sixth ahead of Malukas, who was then prey for Kirkwood, his 2021 Indy Lights title rival. It ended in tears at Turn 9 on Lap 64, as Kirkwood dived up the inside of the Coyne car, which closed the door. The pair slithered into the tire wall hard.

Under yellow, Newgarden pitted leaving Dixon up front ahead of Lundgaard and Palou, who had sustained left-front wing damage while passing Power. He could be easy meat for Herta, McLaughlin and Grosjean on a restart.

The drop of the green with 10 laps to go saw McLaughlin pass Herta and then Palou for third, while Grosjean got past Herta too, and Power lost out to the feisty Newgarden (after a brilliant restart), Harvey and Pagenaud. Meanwhile Ericsson lost several places due to a lack of drive and went into emergency mode.

On Lap 73, Johnson crashed his Ganassi car at Turn 4 bringing out another yellow, and that left just four laps for the remainder of the race… or it would have done. But Newgarden made a very bold move down into Turn 9, diving up the inside of Grosjean at such great speed on cold tires that he needed all the width of the track at the exit. That squeezed the Andretti car into the wall which brought out a yellow, then the red. Under the yellow, Ericsson’s car lost drive again and the car was retired, as the remaining cars headed into the pits to wait out the clear-up. Meanwhile, the stewards decided there was no further punishment deserved for Newgarden.

The engines got restarted, allowing 1.5 laps of green given the restarts are into Turn 9. Dixon didn’t break away but he held on to the lead to beat McLaughlin by just 0.1067sec at the checkered. Palou, Rossi, Herta, Newgarden and Rosenqvist elbowed Lundgaard down to eighth in the space of three miles. Rossi and Herta could be happy to have come back from a lap down.

Harvey clocked ninth for RLL ahead of Pagenaud and the doubtless relieved and frustrated Power who still has a six-point championship lead, but now over Dixon.

This was Dixon’s 53rd victory, so he moved clear of Mario Andretti to take second alone in the all-time winners’ list behind AJ Foyt.

#Nashville #IndyCar #Dixon #triumphs #chaos

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