The two-time IndyCar champion was sixth in the qualifying session after crashing last year and starting 12th in the 2.17-mile, 80-lap race. His best time Saturday was 1:15.14.
The qualifying session was delayed 1½ hours by weather and streets were still wet when qualifying began.
Scott McLaughlin won the pole in 1:14.55, his second of the season, followed by Romain Grosjean (1:14.69), Christian Lundgaard (1:14.71), Alex Palou (1:14.90) and Pato O'Ward (1:14.92).
McLaughlin's qualifying time was slower than last year's pole winner Colton Herta (1:13.68).
McLaughlin, a Team Penske driver, qualified 20th last year and finished 22nd. Winning the pole reenergized his outlook for Sunday's race.
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"I'm really excited for tomorrow; obviously it's a pretty blockbuster, crazy race," McLaughlin said. "To start from the front, after where I started last year, it's going to be a lot easier just to start, control pace hopefully and see where we go."
Last year's winner, Marcus Ericsson, failed to advance to round two in qualifying and will start 18th.
The action starts back at the track at 9:15 a.m. Sunday for a 30-minute warm-up session. The Music City Grand Prix, Round 14 of the 17-race IndyCar series, starts at 2:30 p.m.
Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: IndyCar Nashville qualifying: Scott McLaughlin on Music City GP pole