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Paddock Buzz: Herta's Qualifying Crunch Costly – INDYCAR

Colton Herta again found himself in the spotlight in Nashville, only this time his contact with a tire barrier hurt more than his chances to win Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
Herta’s incident late in the first group of Saturday’s qualifying session brought out the red flag, and there wasn’t enough time to restart the session. Several drivers, including Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, were on their best laps and didn’t get to finish them. Thus, they also did not advance.
Rossi clearly was annoyed, walking back to the transporter with his helmet on. All Herta could do was apologize.
“That was just (being) a little too ambitious for what the conditions were,” Herta said. “I think after it rained a lot (during the afternoon) that (tire) grip kind of fell away. Just trying to find the right braking point and overdid it.
“It’s hard when you put on these (alternate tires) and they’re (optimal) for one or two laps – you really have to get after it. I apologize to my team, especially to (Michael) Andretti because I probably (hurt) Rossi there pretty good and probably a few other guys.
“I don’t try and do that on purpose, and it’s really an honest mistake. I feel bad for everybody involved.”
The session-ending red flag led to mixed-up results, with several top drivers failing to advance to the second round. Simon Pagenaud (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing), Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) and Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) are the most noteworthy. They will start Sunday’s 80-lap race (3 p.m. ET, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network) in positions 13th, 15th and 17th, respectively.
Herta will start 21st. Last year, his contact with the tire barrier came in Turn 9 while chasing race leader Marcus Ericsson with six laps to go. Ericsson went on to claim his second career series victory.
Harvey, Kellett Benefit from Caution
The red flag for Herta’s mistake was the break a few drivers in that group needed, including Jack Harvey (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan) and Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-LINE/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet).
Harvey reached the top 12 for the third time in the past four races. He will line up 11th.
Kellett earned the highest starting position of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career in 12th. His previous best was 14th in this year’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“We made the right call (using alternate tires on consecutive runs) for that Q1 session and managed to transfer, (and) that was one of our goals for the year and really happy we could make it happen here in Nashville,” Kellett said. “INDYCAR races are 100 percent (driven by good) track position. To be able to start further up on the grid is really a big benefit for us.
“This is probably going to be a tough race; we’re going to have to put our best foot forward tomorrow. Looking forward to putting on a good show.”
Harvey’s performance was part of a team-wide effort for a RLL organization that has quietly produced better form in recent races. All three team cars qualified in the top 12, with rookie Christian Lundgaard earning the third starting position despite drawing a drive-through pit road penalty for causing a local yellow.
Lundgaard has qualified in the Firestone Fast Six in two consecutive races. He started sixth and finished second in last month’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES podium finish.
One Hot Summer Day
Before the rain arrived Saturday, Nashville’s weather was downright steamy: 92 degrees for the midday practice with high humidity. Or, as JJ Sebastianelli described it on the INDYCAR Radio Network, “air you can wear.”
The drivers certainly felt the effect, and that was with short runs on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street circuit. The real difficulty comes Sunday over an 80-lap race as conditions are expected to be similar.
“It is hot inside of the car, and the worst part is honestly half of the track — Turns 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 there’s no air flow whatsoever,” Pato O’Ward said. “When I got out of the car (Friday), I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of a race car, even after a wreck (like that). I compared it to like an Iowa (Speedway) race. It was extremely warm.”
The driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet said he won’t wear one of the torso-covering cool suits either. Nor will Scott McLaughlin, who will start on the pole.
“I’ve had too many fail on me (while racing) in Australia,” said McLaughlin, the driver of the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet. “I’m going to go naturally aspirated and try to rely on the top duct and the air fin.”
NBC analyst James Hinchcliffe said a better description of McLaughlin was “naturally perspirated.”
Said McLaughlin: “It’s very hot out there, but we train for this. It’s humid, that’s probably the hardest thing for us right now as drivers, but I feel pretty good.”
It was hot even after the rain. Said Takuma Sato, “I only turned six laps, but I’m sweating like I just got out of the shower.”
Newgarden: Event Well-Received Locally
Year 2 of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix felt like Year 1 to the driver who knows the city best.
“It looks as popular to me as last year,” Nashville-area native and resident Josef Newgarden said. “Genuinely, I heard nothing but rave reviews from the locals here.
“Anyone that came to this event (last year) says they had an amazing time. They noticed there were some issues with the race – there were a lot of yellows – but as far as the event went, they were like, ‘We loved it, we had a blast, we thought (the promoter) put on a great event, and we had a really good time.”
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is expected to return to the city in 2023.
“I feel positive about where (the event) is going,” said Newgarden, who will start sixth in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. “I really don’t see any negativeness about it.”
Shortcut Added to Help Track Flow
An adjustment was made to the run-off area at Turn 1, giving drivers an option to rejoin the field without assistance from the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team.
A shortcut now connects Turns 1 and 3, although if used in Sunday’s race the track position will be lost. A safe re-entry is the responsibility of the driver and his team, and any unsafe conduct in the area may be subject to further penalty.
Odds and Ends
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