‘The Sneaky Swede’ has his T-shirt, now Marcus Ericsson wants 2022 IndyCar title

Marcus Ericsson T-shirt
Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports Images

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – “The Sneaky Swede” isn’t that so much anymore, though the T-shirt heralding Marcus Ericsson as an NTT IndyCar Series star finally arrived at a racetrack this weekend.

Official event merchandise trailers at the Music City Grand Prix were carrying a red No. 8 emblazoned with “The Sneaky Swede,” a nod to the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s penchant for excelling while lurking.

But Ericsson also noted in May that he sometimes felt a little too far out of the spotlight – a journalist from his Swedish hometown told Ericsson he’d been unable to locate any merchandise at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway featuring the driver.

That naturally began to change after Ericsson won the 106th Indy 500 and then led the championship standings for nearly two months.

But really his emergence began with the inaugural Music City Grand Prix, which Ericsson stunningly won despite extraordinary circumstances that required seven pit stops.

Though his first IndyCar victory had occurred two months earlier, Ericsson gained a new level of exposure at Nashville – where he went airborne on the fifth lap, served a stop and go penalty and then sublimely executed a perfect strategy to leap-frog from the rear to the lead over pole-sitter Colton Herta (who crashed with five laps left while futilely chasing the lead).

“Yeah, it was a huge win for me,” said Ericsson, who re-signed with Ganassi’s team a few weeks later. “It was the first Music City Grand Prix in downtown Nashville and a  lot of eyes on this event. So to be the first winner and create history was really cool and really helped me establish myself at the top of IndyCar. It was a really big win for me, and I’m looking at trying to attack that victory Sunday.”

“The Sneaky Swede” T-shirt was on sale at Nashville in an official IndyCar event merchandise trailer (Nate Ryan).

Having lost the points lead after the July 30 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the No. 8 Dallara-Honda driver could use another momentum jolt, and he also will need to overcome adversity again Sunday in Nashville (3 p.m. ET, NBC) after qualifying 18th of 26 cars.

Ericsson has struggled to find the handle all weekend while lacking speed – which is unusual because he has viewed street courses as his biggest strength outside the Indy oval this season. He has been in the top 10 on every street circuit except Long Beach, where he was on track for a podium before a late crash.

“I’m still feeling like St. Pete and Long Beach, we were the fastest cars in both those races,” Ericsson said Thursday before his first lap on track. “St. Pete, we were running really well, and I got that pit lane penalty, which I still think was very harsh and put us at the back of the field and still managed to get a top 10. Long Beach, running P3 late in the race, and I did a mistake on a restart and stuffed it in the wall.

“Our package on street courses has been probably our best as a team, so that’s why I’m really excited about this weekend. I’m really confident we’ll be in the mix to win this thing Sunday.”

Talking with Roger Penske and Alexander Rossi before the July 30 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Marcus Ericsson and Will Power are nine points apart with four races left in the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season (Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

With four races remaining this season, Ericsson has fallen nine points behind 2014 series champion Will Power of Team Penske.

“He’s just a great driver, great competitor and been around a very long time,” Ericsson said. “He’s had an incredible season with his consistency and way of always getting back into races. Pretty crazy how many times it looks like he’s having a bad day, and he ends up in the top four somehow. He’s going to be tough to beat.”

But Power is expecting the same from Ericsson, whom he called “probably the best racer in the series” during the Iowa Speedway race weekend.

Nashville could be a major opportunity either way. Power will be starting eighth after a penalty kept him from advancing to the final round in qualifying, and even though Ericsson is starting 10 spots behind, he proved last year that anything is possible on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile layout.

Ericsson also is being advised by four-time IndyCar champion and Ganassi consultant Dario Franchitti on managing the title race. Ericsson has managed to stanch his points loss the past three races – at Iowa Speedway, he “took the fight” to the Penske duo of Power and Race 1 winner Josef Newgarden before his car faded to eighth after starting 12th. He finished sixth after qualifying 15th in Race 2, and he rebounded again last week at Indy by gaining 14 spots in a drive from last to 11th.

“We have to have that risk vs. reward calculation,” Ericsson said. “It’s a dangerous thing. You think too much of points and then not taking risks because then you’re going to put yourself in difficult situations. (At Indy last week), fighting from back of field and going wheel to wheel with guys for P15, it could be their highlight of the season. Then it’s hard for me to do the same risks because I need to not have a DNF.

“Things like that to keep in mind, but it’s a fine line there. The way to go is maximize every weekend. If we can win, we need to win. P5, be there. Then we’ll be in good shape to win this thing.”

Franchitti also is the most recent to win the Indy 500 and IndyCar series championship in the same season (2010) – history that isn’t lost on Ericsson, 31.

“Coming to America from European racing and Formula One, the championship was the biggest thing, but the more I’m here, the more I understand the 500 is the one you want to win,” he said. “What’s driving me now is to do the double. That’s not something that’s happened a lot in the history of IndyCar. It is hard to win both in same year.

“After the 500, there’s been great motivation for me to work extremely hard to win championship and the double. We have a chance to do it, and I’m really, really, really eager to try and do that double.”

Roger Penske vows new downtown Detroit GP will be bigger than the Super Bowl for city


DETROIT – He helped spearhead bringing the town a Super Bowl 17 years ago, but Roger Penske believes the reimagined Chevrolet Detroit GP is his greatest gift to the Motor City.

“It’s bigger than the Super Bowl from an impact within the city,” Penske told NBC Sports. “Maybe not with the sponsors and TV, but for the city of Detroit, it’s bigger than the Super Bowl.

“We’ve got to give back individually and collectively, and I think we as a company in Michigan and in Detroit, it’s something we know how to do. It shows we’re committed. Someone needs to take that flag and run it down through town. And that’s what we’re trying to do as a company. We’re trying to give back to the city.”

After 30 years of being run on Belle Isle, the race course has been moved to a new nine-turn, 1.7-mile downtown layout that will be the centerpiece of an event weekend that is designed to promote a festival and community atmosphere.

There will be concerts in the adjacent Hart Plaza. Local businesses from Detroit’s seven districts have been invited to hawk their wares to new clientele. Boys and Girls Clubs from the city have designed murals that will line the track’s walls with images of diversity, inclusion and what Detroit means through the eyes of youth.

And in the biggest show of altruism, more than half the circuit will be open for free admission. The track is building 4-foot viewing platforms that can hold 150 people for watching the long Jefferson Avenue straightaway and other sections of the track.

Detroit GP chairman Bud Denker, a longtime key lieutenant across Penske’s various companies, has overseen more than $20 million invested in infrastructure.

The race is essentially Penske’s love letter to the city where he made much of his fame as one of Detroit’s most famous automotive icons, both as a captain of industry with a global dealership network and as a racing magnate (who just won his record 19th Indy 500 with Josef Newgarden breaking through for his first victory on the Brickyard oval).

During six decades in racing, Penske, 86, also has run many racetracks (most notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway but also speedways in Michigan, California and Pennsylvania), and much of that expertise has been applied in Detroit.

“And then the ability for us to reach out to our sponsor base, and then the business community, which Bud is tied in with the key executives in the city of Detroit, bringing them all together,” Penske said. “It makes a big difference.

“The Super Bowl is really about the people that fly in for the Super Bowl. It’s a big corporate event, and the tickets are expensive. And the TV is obviously the best in the world. What we’ve done is taken that same playbook but made it important to everyone in Detroit. Anyone that wants to can come to the race for free, can stand on a platform or they can buy a ticket and sit in the grandstands or be in a suite. It’s really multiple choice, but it is giving it to the city of Detroit. I think it’s important when you think of these big cities across the country today that are having a lot of these issues.”

Denker said the Detroit Grand Prix is hoping for “an amazingly attended event” but is unsure of crowd estimates with much of the track offering free viewing. The race easily could handle a crowd of at least 50,000 daily (which is what the Movement Music Festival draws in Hart Plaza) and probably tens of thousands more in a sprawling track footprint along the city’s riverwalk.

Penske is hoping for a larger crowd than Belle Isle, which was limited to about 30,000 fans daily because of off-site parking and restricted fan access at a track that was located in a public park.

The downtown course will have some unique features, including a “split” pit lane on an all-new concrete (part of $15 million spent on resurfaced roads, new barriers and catchfencing … as well as 252 manhole covers that were welded down).

A $5 million, 80,000-square-foot hospitality chalet will be located adjacent to the paddock and pit area. The two-story structure, which was imported from the 16th hole of the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, will offer 70 chalets (up from 23 suites at Belle Isle last year). It was built by InProduction, the same company that installed the popular HyVee-branded grandstands and suites at Iowa Speedway last year.

Penske said the state, city, county and General Motors each owned parts of the track, and their cooperation was needed to move streetlights and in changing apexes of corners. Denker has spent the past 18 months meeting with city council members who represent Detroit’s seven districts, along with Mayor Mike Duggan. Penske said the local support could include an appearance by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer.

Denker and Detroit GP  president Michael Montri were inspired to move the Detroit course downtown after attending the inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We saw what an impact it made on that city in August of 2021 and we came back from there and said boy could it ever work to bring it downtown in Detroit again,” Denker said. “We’ve really involved the whole community of Detroit, and the idea of bringing our city together is what the mayor and city council and our governor are so excited about. The dream we have is now coming to fruition.

“When you see the infrastructure downtown and the bridges over the roads we’ve built and the graphics, and everything is centered around the Renaissance Center as your backdrop, it’s just amazing.”