FILE – In this May 23, 2021 file photo, Colton Herta examines his qualifying speed during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. Herta established himself as the driver to beat in the inaugural IndyCar Music City Grand Prix, winning pole on Saturday August 7, 2021, after being the fastest in both practice sessions. (AP Photo / Darron Cummings, file)

By DAN GELSTON AP Sports Writer

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Colton Herta completed 11 corners, over a bridge and through an NFL parking lot and had a little feedback for the first IndyCar race on the streets of Nashville city.

“I’m still not sure how easy it will be to get through,” he said.

Herta was quite comfortable as the dominant car up front.

Driver Andretti Autosport made the biggest splash of the race weekend when he clocked a 1 minute 13.6835 second lead lap and won pole for the inaugural IndyCar Music City Grand Prix – after being the faster during the two practice sessions.

“The car is really stable and it’s something that I can really take in the race and that I’m happy with,” he said.

No kidding.

Herta, 21, was more than half a second faster than six-time series champion Scott Dixon in second. Herta, who has one win this season, took her sixth career pole.

“We’re really in a league of our own,” Herta said. “It’s huge for me.”

Herta was the fastest in Friday’s opening session and set the fastest lap again on Saturday before qualifying. He will make his fourth consecutive start in the first row.

“I think this will be the craziest start to the year,” Herta said.

The two Honda riders in the front row will lead the field in the green in one of the most anticipated races outside of the Indianapolis 500 in years for the IndyCar. The 2.17-mile, 11-turn trail features a 3,500-foot straight line that spans the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge.

“It’s wild but I really like it,” said third place starter Alexander Rossi.

IndyCar points leader Alex Palou actually qualified third, but was forced to start ninth after being hit this week by a six-position starting grid penalty for an unapproved engine change at the following a team test at Portland International Raceway.

Jimmie Johnson starts 25th after damaging his car when he hit the wall moments after the first lap of qualifying. Josef Newgarden, the Tennessee native who was the unofficial host of the race, lost his chance for a fourth straight pole position when his front right wing slammed into the wall and sent debris down the track.

“This is the city where the IndyCar needs to be,” Newgarden said. “That’s crazy cool. I’m pretty excited for (Sunday). I just wish we were higher.

The field has 27 entries, IndyCar’s largest non-Indy 500 field since the 2013 race at Long Beach.

The pole trophy was named in honor of Bryan Clauson as part of the event’s partnership with Tennessee Donor Services to raise awareness of organ and tissue donation. Saturday was the five-year term of Clauson’s death. The 27-year-old runner died of injuries sustained in an accident during the Nationals midget race in Belleville, Nebraska.

Dixon bounced back in qualifying for Chip Ganassi Racing after hitting the wall in practice. He bounced back from a big blow – and Grand Prix officials are hoping they can do the same on race day.

Chris Parker, president of the Music City Grand Prix, told the Country Music Hall of Fame this week that the series is prepared for any potential failure.

“We feel good about everything,” he said. “There are going to be so many things that we thought were amazing, and maybe they will be, but there will be things that we ultimately missed and we’re going there, that’s something we need to improve. “

It didn’t take long to find a problem.

One of the grandstands at the first corner of the track was not ready for the start of Friday’s session, was incomplete on Saturday and construction had to continue overnight to try to finish it on Sunday. Grand Prix promoters were predicting refunds for any days lost and inconvenienced fans were moved to open seats. Fans will be able to return to their original grandstand seats if construction is completed by Sunday.

The Grand Prix blamed “the continued construction and logistical delays suffered by our supplier”.

IndyCar has a warm-up Sunday at noon and the 80-lap race begins almost five hours later.

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