Race Weekend Central

Kyle Kirkwood Wins 2nd Career IndyCar Race at Music City Grand Prix

Kyle Kirkwood won the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville on Sunday (Aug. 6), beating Scott McLaughlin to the finish. 

The second year driver took his second win of his career, using pit strategy and patience to leap over the early front-runner in McLaughlin to secure the victory.

“Man, I am not sure to be honest, he was so fast at the end,” Kirkwood said regarding his defense against McLaughlin.

“We were really good on the initial lap but right there at the end he was so fast and he ran me down on that last lap. I got to give it up to the No. 27 crew AutoNation Andretti Autosport Honda. They played everything in my favor and gave me all the tools I needed. I only made a couple passes on track and they cycled me up to front with strategy. We made good decisions and hit all our marks. Solid day for the No. 27 crew.”

The third running of the NTT IndyCar Series street course race in the shadows of the Tennessee Titans stadium was a departure from the previous two races with less mayhem, but the ending still saw a red flag period for a three car pile up.

The final restart came with three laps to the checkered flag, and Kirkwood led to the green. He comfortably held off the Team Penske driver to the finish, who captured his second runner-up at the Nashville street circuit.

McLaughlin led from pole and had a car to win, but pit strategy and track position worked against the Team Penske driver. 

“I gave it my all,” an exhausted McLaughin said. “Tried my hardest. Congrats to Kyle and his team. I should have worn the cool suit but I ate too many pies, so it was a bit heavy for me. DEX imaging Chevy was good. Proud of everyone.”

As the race played out, two factors injected into teams’ strategies. The first was the wear of the green, alternate tires, which some drivers who started on them to pit early to switch. Those who didn’t use them early, were then stuck trying to put them on at some point in the race to check off that requirement per IndyCar rules. 

Romain Grosjean for example put the tires on for his final stint and had to hold it together to the finish. 

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The other factor was a yellow for David Malukas’ rear wing failing on lap 12. That ended up casting teams into multiple pit strategies, including championship leader Alex Palou. He was the highest running car to come in during that caution period, and even though it cycled him to the front, and that crucial one championship point, it forced him to save fuel in the last stint which eliminated his use of push to pass to gain more ground.

McLaughlin led early through the first pit sequence. But after that was stuck in traffic to regain his lost lead. Drivers that led during the middle portion of the race included Palou, Grosjean, and Kirkwood. After the last pit sequence, in which Kirkwood lost little ground while on the greens, he came out back in front and held to the red flag with six to go.

Even with the last green, it appeared no one had the speed to overtake Kirkwood who marched on to another win. Street circuits have proven to be Kirkwood’s best tracks, as he has won twice this year and ran in the top 10 at Detroit. His first top ten was at Long Beach last year and has only two other top-10s at non-street circuits. His owner, Michael Andretti, who had a respectable record on street circuits during his career, had praise for his driver in victory lane.

“Well, we knew he was special when he drove for us in Indy NXT,” Andretti said. “He is the overall driver, well rounded, very smart, quick, knows when to push, when not to. He’s the real deal.”

The IndyCar championship battle worked in Palou’s favor, who gained four points on second place Josef Newgarden. A yellow with 10 laps to go for rookie driver Linus Lundqvist hitting the wall was a blessing for the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing team, as that gave them the caution laps to conserve enough fuel to finish. So, much like Toronto, where the Spaniard was able to fight to get his car with a broken front wing to the end, he leveraged the luck given to him to earn a good result.

2023 IndyCar at Nashville Results

The IndyCar Series’ next race will be the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The green flag will fly at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, Aug. 12, with coverage on USA.

About the author

Tom Blackburn

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. Besides writing the IndyCar Previews and the occasional Inside Indycar, he will hop on as a fill-in guest on the Open Wheel podcast The Pit Straight. His full-time job is with the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. After graduating from Purdue University with a Creative Writing degree, he was commissioned in the Army and served a 15-month deployment as a tank platoon leader with the 3d ACR in Mosul, Iraq. A native Hoosier, he calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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Kirkwood is surprising me this year, probably because I never watched nor followed him in the NXT series. With another year or two under his belt, perhaps he becomes another front runner threatening to win every week?
Regardless, it was a great drive for him, and congrats on his second win!

McLaughlin has to be getting tired of strategy costing him races, I think this is at least the second one this year that has potentially cost him a victory. But then, hindsight is always 20/20.

Felt bad for Lundqvist. Kid was putting together a solid race until that one mistake took him out. Hope to see him get more opportunities in the future.

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