I think it’s fair to say the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the Streets of Nashville will not go down as the most glorious moment for the NTT INDYCAR Series. Amidst the nine caution periods, two red flags, some very questionable driving, and countless amount of carbon fiber strewn through downtown Nashville, the enduring memory of t Sunday’s race will be Marcus Ericsson running over the top of Sebastien Bourdais before SOMEHOW coming back to capture his second career win.
An inside look at I-don’t-know-exactly-how-to-describe-it victory is where we’ll begin a postscript with no shortage of topics to discuss.
I’m not sure I want to go as far as saying that Ericsson won BECAUSE of his accident with Bourdais. At the same time, there’s little doubt that after starting 18th, the accident and what happened in its aftermath produced a unique opportunity for the No. 8 Bryant Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; an opportunity they took full advantage of. Let me explain.
First, let me briefly thank Chip Ganassi Racing’s PR man Kelby Krauss for providing me – and therefore, you – some of the relevant information to this discussion. Also, everything I outline here is in a chart below if you scroll down a bit.
Anyway, coming to start/finish to begin lap 5, Ericsson got into Bourdais, resulting in serious front wing damage for the Swede and terminal rear wing damage for the Frenchman.
The Swede was able to limp around to pit lane at the end of Lap 5 to change his wing. However, the stop was made in a closed pit, which meant Ericsson would sustain a penalty. He pitted again on lap 7 for fuel and Firestone Alternate Tires, before coming to pit lane again on Lap 8 to top off for fuel. This was strategic by the team, as the penalty they incurred for the lap 5 start meant they would restart at the back. See table below of Ericsson stops.
|Work or Reason
|Front wing changed (by rule, this was all the team was allowed to change).
|Fuel and switch to Alternate tires (he started on Primaries)
|Top off with fuel – since they were going to start at the back anyway.
|Penalty – Stop and Go for Avoidable Contact
|Fuel and Alternate Tires
Ericsson also was not done with penalties, as INDYCAR assessed him a Stop and Go for Avoidable Contact with Bourdais. He served the penalty on Lap 10 under Green, and managed not to lose a lap.
The net/net is that Ericsson was able to make three pit stops, and serve two penalties within a 6-lap period WITHOUT losing a lap. By lap 13. Ericsson was running 25th and shown as 32.7s behind leader Colton Herta. Furthermore, (and they could not have known this at the time) the combination of topping off on lap 8, AND 26 more yellow flag laps that occurred between then and the end of the race, meant Ericsson would be able to finish the race with one more stop. Conversely, all other competitors would need to make two stops for fuel.
Now, I doubt an IndyCar team would ever tell their driver “Hey (insert driver’s name), we got a new strategy idea: run over the back of Sebastien Bourdais and you’ll win.” And call it flukish if you want. But the fallout of the accident, with some quick reactions by Chip Ganassi Racing, followed by an abundance of caution combined, with some solid fuel saving by Ericsson, and you have the anatomy of one very unique win.
Of course, Ericsson’s good fortune had to come at the expense of someone. And you couldn’t help but feel sorry for Colton Herta following Sunday’s race. In an uber-competitive era of very similar cars and numerous top teams, you might see a driver have the field covered by a couple tenths. But it’s rare that any one car is so visibly superior to the rest of the field. But Herta’s No. 26 Gainbridge Honda was that car this weekend, as we saw him easily overtake others in what would not be considered passing zones.
Look, we all know the 21-year-old Californian is a total stud and has numerous wins and perhaps multiple championships in his future. While the breaks didn’t fall his way Sunday, there is no doubt who the star of IndyCar’s first trip to Nashville was.
As you know, the race was marred by accidents and prolonged caution/red flag periods. That was disappointing and while certainly a partial function of a very tight track, I’d argue there was also a lot of less-than-stellar driving from in many cases race-winning and championship level drivers (and of course, THE race-winning driver).
Of course, there is a strong, vocal contingent of IndyCar fans that abhor street races, and have been beating their chest in the last 48 hours saying I told you so.
However, ignoring the noise from the “Trenton and Langhorne were so much better” crowd, there were 65,000 paid customers in the grandstands, and something that can be built on.
And while I tend to be in the minority on this, I’d rather have an event on a less than stellar layout that people are drawn to than one on an ideal layout that has trouble attracting an audience.
Yes, the race was not the best showcase in the world but the people lit up social media. Nashville also has a hometown hero in Josef Newgarden who’s going to be in the series for the next decade. And that is immense value in building a local event.
In other words, the 5000-foot view is, in spite of some hiccups, there is A LOT to build on with the Nashville event. Hopefully, the series and organizers see this.
Granted, he wasn’t the only one, but 2014 series champion Will Power did not showcase himself well Sunday. In particular, Power had contact with two Team Penske teammates Scott McLaughlin and Simon Pagenaud after very questionable moves.
And it wasn’t just Penske’s IndyCar drivers that run into each other. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski got into each other during the NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen. Of course, Logano and Keselowski took each other out on the last lap of this year’s Daytona 500 in February.
Back to the IndyCar side, Josef Newgarden’s 10th-place represented the best effort for the team. Nashville was also another miserable day for Scott McLaughlin. The rookie Kiwi’s last 6 finishes in order are: 20, 19, 20, 14, 12, 22. A once promising rookie season has really come off the rails.
Team Penske’s struggles contributed to what was an absolutely miserable weekend for Chevrolet. Get this: In the five sessions (Practice 1, Practice 2, Qualifying, Warmup and Race), Chevrolet had two top-5s (O’Ward in the Warmup and Rosenqvist in Qualifying). Honda swept the top-7 finishing positions in the race.
I have said this before and will reiterate: INDYCAR should make every REASONABLE effort to finish their races under green flag conditions without altering the fundamental framework of the race (i.e. the race distance). When Colton Herta crashed with 6 laps remaining, the series went red and was able to setup a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag.
The reason I bring this up is that it was the CORRECT decision, just as it was the correct decision in Detroit. Of course, when Will Power’s car didn’t restart at Detroit (something the series could not have foreseen), everyone slammed INDYCAR for the decision to go red. However, everyone has been silent about Sunday.
Can’t have it both ways. The decision was correct Sunday, just as it was correct in Detroit.
A Few Notes…
- Because we are all familiar with the very dry, piercing wit of Sebastien Bourdais, I suppose it was somewhat humorous to hear him say he didn’t “want to be a douchebag,” in criticizing Ericsson. I’m just not sure an executive for RokIt, who is paying good money to have Bourdais represent his brand, would feel the same way about seeing that on live TV.
- This may have been a story if the race turned out differently. However, is there anyone better on the radio at managing drivers through a race than Bryan Herta?
- Great call by Michael Cannon not changing tires on the final stop to get Scott Dixon the track position to finish second. Could this be a call we look back on if Dixon pulls out a 7th title?
- On a day when drivers with similar resumes had their heads firmly up their asses, the Andretti Autosport duo of James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay kept it clean and scored their best finishes of 2021. Well-deserved in what has been a very tough campaign for both.
- It was another terrible weekend for Jimmie Johnson, which I won’t rehash. I will simply reiterate that as the seven-time NASCAR champion continues to get his ass kicked week-in week-out, he continues to conduct himself with grace, class and humility. I don’t know what the end game is for Johnson, but you have to admire how he has conducted himself in what has had to be a very trying 2021.
Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for AutoRacing1.com. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.