Josef Newgarden chasing 1st IndyCar win at his hometown race in Nashville

Updated Aug. 5, 2023 2:04 p.m. ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Josef Newgarden can cap a week that started with Tennessee naming a day after him by taking a big step closer to a third IndyCar Series championship.

Standing in his way is the Music City Grand Prix on Sunday. This is his home race, which has proven quite a challenge the past two years.

“It’s a unique opportunity in that I only get one shot of that every year," Newgarden said. "Kind of like the Indy 500.”

Newgarden won the Indianapolis 500 in May, and he's tied with points leader Alex Palou with four wins this season by sweeping the doubleheader in Iowa for Team Penske in the series' last stop.


The issue for the Tennessee native is all his wins, pushing his career total to 29, have come on ovals while Nashville is a long road course.

Newgarden's best finish here came last year when he started and finished sixth. This 2.1-mile race with 11 turns around the downtown streets of Nashville has proven very challenging for all drivers with seemingly more crashes than green flag racing over the first two years.

He said street courses can always be a little chaotic. Nashville features the IndyCar Series' longest street race with 80 laps and 168 miles over the 2.1-mile course, and it's a bumpy, 11-turn layout highlighted by drivers going back and forth the bridge over the Cumberland River.

“Surviving the chaos is always important,” Newgarden said. "It’s exciting when it’s chaotic. But for us, it’s very stressful. and you got to keep a cool head so that if something changes mid-race you got to be OK with that and you got to be very flexible. So I think that’s what Nashville demands of everybody.”

Swede Marcus Ericsson won Nashville's debut, and Scott Dixon of New Zealand, who comes here third in the points race, won last year for Chip Ganassi Racing. Neither Ericsson nor Dixon went on to win the series championship that season.

Palou is chasing his second series championship in three years with the Ganassi team before moving to Arrow McLaren next season. Since 2008, the points leader with five races left has won the series championship eight times, and Palou was the last to do that in 2021.

The Spaniard has led this season's points standings after eight of the first 12 races.

Newgarden won his second series title in 2019, and he's among the 13 drivers still mathematically eligible for this season's title.

A win in Nashville would certainly help Newgarden. He enters Sunday's race trailing Palou by 80 points, the second-largest point difference since the IndyCar series was unified in 2008 and nearly twice the average 41.4-point lead with five races left in that span.

It's why Newgarden cut back some of his commitments this week, including his celebrity ping-pong event. He said he was all over the place in 2021 trying to support his hometown race as much as possible, and he still wants to do his part for an event that will cap the IndyCar season starting in 2024.

“But I’m laser focused on what is it going to take for me to to win the race?” Newgarden said. "And I want to give my team the best opportunity to do that.”


Drivers had no issues getting their first practice in Friday. Rain limited Saturday's second practice to just 30 minutes before qualifying. Ryan Hunter-Reay managed to save his car during the shortened session after some slipping and sliding.


Linus Lundqvist of Sweden will make his IndyCar debut Sunday with the reigning Indy Lights champ filling in for Simon Pagenaud in the No. 60 of Meyer Shank Racing. Pagenaud still is recovering from a July 1 crash in practice at Mid-Ohio.

Lundqvist came into this season without a ride despite winning both the title in IndyCar's ladder system along with the $500,000 bonus to spend on an IndyCar ride. Now 24, Lundqvist has been coming to races with his helmet ready to fill in if needed only to head home without a ride.

He got this call last weekend. Lundqvist was helped by having some experience on the streets of Nashville and Detroit, and this is the only race he's got a commitment for at the moment.

“It’s been something I’ve been waiting for and working towards for a very long time, so that it’s actually here right now is a little unbelievable,” Lundqvist said.


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