Race Weekend Central

2023 IndyCar Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Preview

This weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series race is one that brings more unknowns than any track on the schedule. Coming up on its third running, the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix clearly has been a big success for series since it joined the calendar in 2021. The layout has the iconic, and very unique, run over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge and tight section on the west bank of the Cumberland River, with 2.1 miles of challenging asphalt and concrete surface.

In the previous two races, the action on track has been fraught with driver mistakes and contact which has slowed the race and sown confusion throughout the field. It’s possible that carries over to this race as the paddock continues to fight with how to keep their cars on-track and in the hustle to win.

Survive the Bumps and Transitions

Drivers will have a lot to handle, literally, as they cross over the transition and track surface as it becomes the Veterans Memorial Bridge. The first year of the race, practice was full of massive bottoming out and steering wheels violently rotating in driver’s hands.

In 2022, teams came more prepared, but the starting point for the race was moved to the ‘backstretch’ as the field returned from the west side back towards Nissan Stadium. With cars rocketing into turn nine, it made for dramatic racing heading into the 90 degree, left-handed turn 9. This will continue to be a story to watch, as car setup will be one of the two most important aspects to conquer to ensure a good finish.

The Racing Luck Must Be With You

If this race was Star Wars, then each driver’s race strategist would be Obi-Wan Kenobi, telling them the Force, or in this case, Racing Luck, will be with you. Otherwise, you will be hosed.

Having the best car and dominating on this tight circuit is not a recipe for victory. In 2021, Marcus Ericsson literally flew through the air and, after other unfortunate incidents on track, cycled to the front for the win. The same thing happened to Scott Dixon last year, when he fell to the rear but dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and dodged again the mayhem to win. The track is a mysterious and lurking monster, and drivers will need to hold off whatever is hiding in the concrete walls or embedded in the abrasive surface to ensure they come out on top.

The Last Year

It will be the last year for the current layout for the Music City GP The paddock area and pits for the track are in the building zone for the Tennessee Titans future stadium, and construction is set to begin soon. Promoters and IndyCar officials announced on Thursday (Aug. 3) that a new design will be used in 2024, a seven-turn, 2.17 mile layout that still uses the Memorial Bridge and pit lane remaining on the east side of the river by the stadium. The highlights to the change is the three blocks of Broadway Street between turn six and seven, creating a highly visible portion of the track to the pedestrian-heavy honky-tonk bar area.

Championship Hunt

The battle for the Astor Cup is winding down, and at Nashville, will the local driver Josef Newgarden make ground on current leader Alex Palou? Our team at Frontstretch has the battle even at this weekend’s race, but that’s based on the chaos that has been the big story both years. Newgarden hasn’t cracked the top five at his hometown event yet, while Palou got a third and led most laps in 2022. But the mayhem is what will balance this out, and it could bite either of them at any moment.

By the time 4 p.m. rolls around on Sunday, the series and fans at home will have a better idea how the championship will play out heading into the final four races.

Feels Like Redemption

Colton Herta is winless for the year. Scott McLaughlin has one victory at Barber. Both drivers are searching for better results to get their year back on track. Nashville is also a place where each of them had a chance to win but instead lost out. In 2021, Herta was the best car, putting passes on the competition in the tight confines of the turns 5-8 complex, but crashed when trying to get around eventual winner Ericsson.

McLaughlin had pole last year but couldn’t get around Dixon coming to the checkered flag – he did participate in the closest street course finish in IndyCar history though. Lets see if either one of them throttles down to victory this weekend.

PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge

The $1 million prize for winning on all three different track disciplines in IndyCar may not be given out this year based on the results of Sunday’s race. Nashville is the last street course of the year, and if Newgarden or McLaughlin don’t win, then the challenge’s possible achievers this year narrows. That would leave only Ericsson (St. Pete), Kyle Kirkwood (Long Beach), and Christian Lundgaard (Toronto) in the running. But each of them would have to win the last oval at Gateway and one of the three remaining road courses. Palou is in the best spot, needing one oval victory to claim the prize.

Regardless of who needs what, Newgarden will be standing in all of their ways when the series hits Gateway later this month for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.

Frontstretch Predictions

At Iowa, we got one of the six predictions right. That’s about 17% accuracy. Ouch. This is why its not safe to gamble. Anyway, expect this weekend to be chaotic, so these might as well be written on toilet paper.

  1. Kirkwood – He has legit craft on street courses. Why not get win number two?
  2. Palou – Everyone in the paddock is hoping he gets caught up in some mayhem just to give them a fighting chance.
  3. Herta – leads some, but some sort of strategy works against him, maybe? It’s a guess.

The 2023 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix will kick off on Sunday, Aug. 6. at 12 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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