NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weekend proved to be a pivotal one from several angles. Andretti Autosport needed validation on the season having not won a race since Long Beach and Alex Palou needed a good result to maintain his lead in the championship standings.
Both ended up accomplishing their goals on the streets of Nashville in the last of this iteration of the Music City Grand Prix.
Kyle Kirkwood snapped a winless drought of several weeks for Andretti as he executed a perfect execution of strategy while also maintaining a brisk pace to get his second win on the season, which is also his second career win.
“I mean, we absolutely nailed everything it felt like, to be honest,” Kirkwood said. “We had a great strategy. The car was extremely fast. Through the entire race, I feel like we were probably one of the fastest cars.”
Kirkwood started eighth and executing one of a variety of pit and tire strategies found himself cycled to the lead by Lap 28. He and his crew maintained a good pace for the remainder of the race holding off the likes of Romain Grosjean, Scott McLaughlin (pole sitter), and Alex Palou.
The race went cautionless (surprisingly) for most of the race, sans the wave-off of the race’s start on Lap 1 for an unsatisfactory stack up on the start, along with a peculiar mechanical failure on Lap 13 by David Malukas’ car which inexplicably lost this rear wing without any contact along with the gearbox.
The next caution would not come until Lap 71 when Linus Lundqvist, in his IndyCar debut, crashed getting wide in the marbles. That caution was a saving grace for Alex Palou, whose decision to pit early on the Malukas caution left him having to save fuel. The slower caution laps were ideal for him to save some fuel.
The caution was not fortunate for Josef Newgarden, who needed to get around Palou in order to cut into Palou’s lead in the points standings. A Palou pit stop would have meant a big gain for him in the points.
But, another caution on the subsequent restart, all but ensured Palou would save enough fuel to make it to the end and he held off Newgarden to finish third behind Scott McLaughlin. Newgarden finished 4th.
“We learned I think we were super, super lucky today,” Palou said of the outcome. “Luck was in our favor because we were not going to make it. Then those yellows came. But, yeah, it was a very stressful race.”
Palou said it was aggressive to pit early like they did, but he added that they intend to stay aggressive despite their 84-point points lead over Newgarden exiting the weekend.
“Until they give us the trophy… I think Josef can win the last four races,” Palou said. “Why not? Everybody can do it. We can do it, as well. Yeah, on this championship, on this series, unfortunately, I don’t think you can just take it easy.”
With four races to go, the deficit is not insurmountable for Newgarden, but much more difficult. The series will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this coming weekend for the second time this season as they take part in a quadruple-header Brickyard weekend with Indy NXT and the NASCAR Xfinity and Cup Series on the IMS road course.
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