NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Colton Herta Dominates Qualifying, Wins Pole at Nashville

NASHVILLE — Josef Newgarden may be Nashville’s hometown hero but Colton Herta has quickly made the street circuit near the Tennessee Titans stadium his own as he qualified on pole for Sunday’s (August 8th) Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.

The No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda went around the 11 turn, 2.17 mile street circuit in 1 minute, 13.6835 seconds to average 102.601 mph.

Herta’s fastest lap was a full .5492 seconds clear of second place Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Third fastest was Alex Palou in the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, but the Spaniard will have to serve a six place grid penalty for using an additional engine aside from his allotted amount so the two-time winner in 2021 will start ninth. Alexander Rossi slotted into third place ahead of Felix Rosenqvist and Romain Grosjean rounding out the top five.

Herta was fastest in both practice sessions before qualifying and won the first street race of the 2021 IndyCar season at St. Petersburg. Given that Nashville is an entirely new venue, Herta had to prepare virtually, and that half day on the simulator paid off.

We came here and we rolled off the truck, it was just really good,” Herta said. “It has a lot to do with Honda and their simulator, how accurate it actually was. I think a lot of guys and teams were kind of wondering if it was going to be like the real thing, where the barriers and bumps were.

“I thought it was really accurate. That kind of helped us get the car kind of where you wanted to. You never fully want to rely on the simulator. But we kind of got it in an operating window where we liked it. We kind of brought that car here and it worked right away. Just minor changes to keep up with the track evolution. The car was good.”

The first group in round one of knockout qualifying had a larger sense of urgency than normal after an early red flag. Jimmie Johnson hit the wall on the exit of turn 10, bringing out a red flag and eliminating the seven time NASCAR champion from participating further in qualifying. 

When the circuit was deemed safe for the rest of the first group, everybody had to hustle to set their best laps to advance to round two as time dwindled down and Palou advanced to group two ahead of Rossi, Pato O’Ward, Rosenqvist, Newgarden and Will Power.

Moving to group two in round one, Dixon was actually fastest in the relatively calm session ahead of Herta, Jack Harvey, James Hinchcliffe, Simon Pagenaud and Grosjean. The only drama from group two was centered around Cody Ware losing his two fastest laps for impeding Pagenaud around the back side of the circuit before getting out of the way.

In round two, Newgarden was set to advance to the final round of qualifying to compete for pole position but a miscue going through turn 11 meant that the Hendersonville, Tennessee native hit the wall with the right front corner of his car, breaking the suspension. The No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet continued down the main straightaway until reaching the runoff at turn 1.

Newgarden was sixth fastest, but lost his fastest lap in the session after his incident caused a local yellow to be displayed for O’Ward and Herta, causing them to reduce their speed.

“Disappointing, obviously not what I wanted to do but I was just trying to make up the deficit from yesterday to today,” Newgarden said. “Pretty pumped for tomorrow, just wish we were a little higher up, trying to claw some performance back there (at turn 11) and I over-pushed.”

Newgarden was then asked on the qualifying broadcast if he thought his penalty of losing his fastest lap was a fair one.

“Yeah, look you can’t wreck and not get penalized, that’s on me. So that’s how it works,” Newgarden said.

Palou would be fastest in round two, advancing to the Fast Six with Rossi, Herta, Dixon, Rosenqvist and Grosjean.

In the final round of qualifying, Herta put his extra set of new Firestone red alternate sidewall tires to good use to secure pole position, the California native having the set available to him after not using them earlier in qualifying. Nobody else could come close to Herta as he secured pole position for the sixth time in his young IndyCar career.

Full lineup:

  1. Colton Herta
  2. Scott Dixon
  3. Alexander Rossi
  4. Felix Rosenqvist
  5. Romain Grosjean
  6. Jack Harvey
  7. Simon Pagenaud
  8. Pato O’Ward
  9. Alex Palou
  10. James Hinchcliffe
  11. Will Power
  12. Josef Newgarden
  13. Graham Rahal
  14. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  15. Helio Castroneves
  16. Sebastien Bourdais
  17. Santino Ferrucci
  18. Marcus Ericsson
  19. Dalton Kellett
  20. Conor Daly
  21. Max Chilton
  22. Rinus VeeKay
  23. Scott McLaughlin
  24. Takuma Sato
  25. Jimmie Johnson
  26. Ed Jones
  27. Cody Ware

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