INDYCAR Moves Finale to Nashville Oval; Driver News Abounds

Nashville Superspeedway will be the site of INDYCAR's 2024 finale - Penske Entertainment photo
Nashville Superspeedway will be the site of INDYCAR’s 2024 finale – Penske Entertainment photo

When the NTT INDYCAR SERIES announced its season finale would move from the natural turns at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to the streets of Nashville and the Music City Grand Prix, it looked like a positive change. For one, Nashville is much closer to the home of most INDYCAR teams, which is Indianapolis, of course. The city has hosted three successful August races that were well-received by drivers, teams, fans and by the industry that makes Nashville famous: the music industry.

Everything looked good. Until it wasn’t. On Valentine’s Day, the series and the Music City Grand Prix primary sponsor, Big Machine Label Group announced a change of venue. Scott Borchetta, the event’s primary sponsor and owner of Big Machine, is taking over the planning for the race and moving it to the 1.33-mile D-shaped Nashville Superspeedway on September 15th. The Indy cars last competed on this oval in 2008, so only a few drivers have experience with the unusual layout.

The September 15th finale will be the first on an oval since 2014

Borchetta realizes that “Nashville is a world-class sport and entertainment market that loves its racing,” Borchetta said. “In its first three years, the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix successfully established itself as a major event in Nashville,” as the street course wended its way through downtown and across the Cumberland River, “and it has tremendous potential for growth, so I couldn’t be more excited to make this statement regarding its future.”

The rationales for moving the event from downtown to the oval track are plentiful. For starters, the Tennessee Titans’ stadium will be under construction during this period of time. For another, fans have been pestering the series for more oval tracks (but will they show up to watch?) over the past few years, and changing of the downtown circuit made for questionable acceptance across the downtown area, which is a magnet for music fans.

“With the significant challenges of the proposed new course and unknowns with the new stadium construction, which has been the center of operations for the first three years of the Grand Prix, there just isn’t the space needed by the race teams,” Borchetta explained. “Nor is there the proper access for downtown businesses and residences to execute the world-class event that is expected by our amazing fans, IndyCar teams and sponsors.”

INDYCAR had to change the venue for its season finale

The last time the season finale was held on an oval, it was at the now-shuttered Auto Club Speedway at Fontana, Calif. That 2014 race saw Will Power earn the championship for Team Penske, while recently retired open-wheel ace Tony Kanaan earned the win for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Nashville Superspeedway, acquired by Speedway Motorsports in 2021, is led by track president and CEO Marcus Smith. “Speedway Motorsports always wants to expand our event calendar with exceptional entertainment for fans that also increases economic impact for the entire Middle Tennessee region,” he said.

The mayor of Nashville, Freddie O’Connell, voiced his appreciation for the cooperation shown by all parties involved in making the Music City Grand Prix a successful endeavor for everyone involved. Realizing that the event is more than a race, he noted, “It’s a festival that celebrates both Nashville and racing. I’ve enjoyed attending all three Music City Grand Prix races and appreciate their continued commitment to Nashville. Racing at the Nashville Superspeedway will add new intrigue to this year’s event.”

It’s unknown whether this is a one-year change or if the forces that helped move the race to the speedway will lead the promoter to continue having the INDYCAR season finale at Nashville Superspeedway. Fan interest in the changed venue should help both the series and promoter decide.

With an injured wrist, David Malukas will sit out the season starter at St. Petersburg – Penske Entertainment photo

In other INDYCAR news, there’s been some changes in the driver department. David Malukas, who moved from Dale Coyne Racing to Arrow McLaren this year, had a training accident last week that resulted in a wrist injury. This injury will keep the driver from competing in the season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, which takes place March 8-10. Arrow McLaren has indicated they will have a replacement named shortly for Malukas.

Two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato returns to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for this year’s race

And Taku is back for the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500. Takuma Sato returns to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, which he has won twice: the first time with Andretti Global in 2017 and the second with RLLR in 2020. He’ll have support from AMADA AMERICA, a leading global machine tool manufacturer and sheet metal supplier. The car is No. 75 and, o course, sports a Honda engine.

 

Kyle Larson did 200 laps at Phoenix Raceway to acclimate himself to the Arrow McLaren Indy car – Penske Entertainment photo

Kyle Larson, attempting the INDYCAR/NASCAR “double” on Memorial Day Sunday, had his first true experience in the Arrow McLaren Dallara/Chevrolet he’ll race during the 108th Indy 500. Testing at Phoenix on that one-mile oval the first week of February, Larson had a few “moments” in the car that allowed him to understand better what to expect when the car moves out on him. The Hendricks Motorsports driver, racing this weekend in the Daytona 500, said it was good to “feel” the car when it stepped out a bit. “The characteristics of an Indy car versus a Cup car – at least at Phoenix – felt very similar,” he said.

About Anne Proffit 1245 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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