Kyle Kirkwood wins Music City GP for second IndyCar victory

AP photo by George Walker IV / Kyle Kirkwood holds his trophy after finishing first in IndyCar's Music City Grand Prix on Sunday. Kirkwood was flawless in a late restart to win the race held on the streets of downtown Nashville and add a second career victory to the one he earned in April in Long Beach, California.

NASHVILLE — Kyle Kirkwood said he felt calm on the final restart, probably more than a young driver in his second IndyCar Series season should.

That's just how confident he was in how fast Andretti Autosports had his Honda-powered ride running.

Kirkwood easily held off Scott McLaughlin's Chevrolet-powered Team Penske entry during a final shootout after a late red flag Sunday on the streets of downtown Nashville, winning the Music City Grand Prix for his second triumph on North America's top open-wheel circuit.

"It was a phenomenal afternoon," Kirkwood said. "I mean, we absolutely nailed everything, it felt like, to be honest. We had a great strategy. Car was extremely fast. Through the entire race, I feel like we were probably one of the fastest cars."

The 24-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, started eighth and led a race-high 34 laps. Kirkwood took the lead for good on the 54th lap and appeared poised to race to the finish when a caution with 10 laps remaining ensured he had enough fuel left to give Andretti Autosports its 72nd all-time IndyCar victory.

Then four cars crashed, three into each other off the restart, forcing a red flag that stopped the race.

On the restart at the end of the 77th of 80 laps, Kirkwood managed to drive through the rubber debris on the 2.1-mile, 11-turn course, adding a second win after first winning in April on the street course in Long Beach, California.

McLaughlin finished second in a similar final shootout at last year's Music City GP. He earned his second straight pole position on this course during Saturday's qualifying, led the first 24 laps Sunday and was up front for one more lap, but he couldn't catch Kirkwood.

"I was trying to do my best to hunt him down at the end," McLaughlin said. "I just had a poor restart. I had no temp in my rear tires for some reason. So annoying. I don't know what happened. Like, I didn't change my procedure. I'm normally pretty good on restarts, but I was terrible."

Chip Ganassi Racing's Alex Palou, the series points leader, finished third and padded his lead to 84 points with four races remaining. Team Penske's Josef Newgarden remains second in the standings, posting his best finish yet in his hometown race at fourth.

Ganassi's Scott Dixon, the winner a year ago in the second edition of the Music City GP for the 53rd win of his career, finished fifth this time after beginning the race 12th on the grid. It was the 318th consecutive IndyCar start for the 43-year-old New Zealander, tying Tony Kanaan's series record.

  photo  AP photo by George Walker IV / Kyle Kirkwood leads David Malukas as they head into the ninth of 11 turns on the 2.1-mile street course in downtown Nashville during IndyCar's Music City Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon.

With the race already nicknamed "Crashville" after 17 combined cautions the past two years, Sunday's first yellow flag came out on the 13th lap when a piece of a rear wing came off David Malukas' car a couple of laps after a pit stop, cutting his race short after 11 laps.

In the end, though, this was a fast race, finishing in just less than two hours, with only four cautions and eight laps under yellow. That also left the streets filled with rubber chunks as six drivers swapped the lead nine times. The top six finishers made only two pit stops over 168 miles.

Palou and the Ganassi team came in prepared for a race with lots of cautions, which is why he was trying to stretch fuel. Palou said he felt "super lucky" when the late caution came out in what had been a stressful afternoon until then.

"I think I lost like five years of my life just trying to save fuel, a lot of fuel, and praying for a yellow," Palou said. "It finally came, which was good to me."

Nashville relocated the restart area for this year. It didn't help, though McLaughlin made it clear that restarts on street courses have been a source of frustration for IndyCar all season long. McLaughlin said he was angry at how the restart went Sunday.

"We move restarts, we do this, we do that," McLaughlin said. "Nothing works until we, like, police it. We have to police something."

Linus Lundqvist, the reigning champ in the Indy NXT developmental series, made his debut on the top circuit by driving Meyer Shank Racing's No. 60 car for Simon Pagenaud, who hasn't raced since a July 1 crash in practice. Lundqvist was the highest-qualifying rookie and started 11th, but he crashed the right front of the car into a wall after having run in the top 10 for much of the race. That brought out the final caution with 10 laps remaining, and he finished 25th.

Next up is Saturday's Gallagher Grand Prix on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of an IndyCar-NASCAR combo weekend at the Brickyard. Palou won on that course in May, and another strong finish could really help the 26-year-old Spaniard move closer to his second series title in three years before moving to Arrow McLaren next season.