Is Texas Team Penske’s race to lose? McLaughlin and his teammates are confident

FORT WORTH, TX — Qualifying is everything at Texas. 9 of the last 10 NTT INDYCAR Series winners here have started in the top 10. In fact, if you count the other superspeedway’s, you’d see that starting position can really make or break your race winning aspirations.

Indy has seen 5 straight from the top 10 including 3 of the last 4 from the front row. When we went to Pocono, we saw six straight from the top 10.

Translation?

The top 10 qualifiers on Saturday has the best shot of a victory 24 hours later. That’s great news for Team Penske. All three of their cars start in the top seven. Even more so, if you go back to 2017, they’d have either won at Texas (2017, 2019) or had the second place finisher (2018, 2020, 2021, 2021) in all six tries.

I like their odds on Sunday to win their third in the last seven tries in the Lone Star state.

For Scott McLaughlin, he nearly was on the pole for the second straight race. The difference? The opening lap of the two-lap qualifying session.

Felix Rosenqvist’s opening lap was 221.316 mph. The last qualifier of the 27 car session in McLaughlin went 221.166 mph in his No. 3 Chevrolet on Lap 1 but was 221.027 mph on Lap 2. That was quicker than Rosenqvist’s lap of 220.905 mph. But, that difference on Lap 1 was what kept McLaughlin from adding a second straight pole award trophy to his case.

“I certainly felt I had a little bit of scrub off turn one and two on that last lap, and that potentially — it may have cost me a little bit, scrubbed a little bit of speed there,” said McLaughlin. “I knew it, so on three and four I was like, oh, I’m making a little bit of a weight jack adjustment and bars, but then I looked at the score and I was, like, 209.9 at the end. That might not be enough, and then sure enough they said P2. Like I said, great job for Team Chevy to have a front row. I think it’s three in the top four, so it’s leaps and bounds, and we’re getting ready for Indy now.”

Still, he finished runner-up here in his Texas debut last May so being in second place at the start of this year’s race is a difference maker too.

Scott McLaughlin is at one of his favorite tracks now – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

“I think there’s momentum and also self-belief and believing that you guys can do it as a squad, guys and girls,” he said. “I think the Car 3 team, before we went to St. Pete we believed we could pop out a result here and there and be strong, but the way that St. Pete went for us was fantastic. Certainly when you have that confidence early, it’s a fantastic thing, but now it’s all about keeping that going, and, yeah, I believe the momentum is that. The momentum, you’ve got to — even if we did qualify a little bit further down today, I still think we would have rolled into tomorrow’s race feeling pretty good.

“It’s a good vibe on the team, and I put that down to Benny Bretzman. He is such a great team leader, great for the camaraderie between the guys and girls on the team. He puts a lot of confidence in me and my ability. That certainly is a momentum-builder for all, for sure.

“You just go out and wheel the thing and see what you’ve got. I feel comfortable with what I’ve got, and I put myself down that I can be as good as anyone in this series, and that’s why I’ve come here to challenge myself. Yeah, confidence is a big thing, and I lost a little bit of that last year, and it’s nice to get some of that back, but we’ll see what we’ve got tomorrow. Yeah, all good.”

He’s confident and has a hunger still for tracks that he didn’t know he’d grow to quickly love.

“I just enjoy ovals. I enjoy the challenge. It’s very intricate. You have to think about all parts of the corner. There’s almost eight or ten parts of the corner that you have to really think about to give feedback for the engineer. We took turns one, two, three, four, but for me I break it up into almost 20 parts throughout the track, and I enjoy that.

“I guess one thing as well last year for me was I had bad habits on the road course, straight course that I had to iron out, and ovals I could come and just be brand new. I just learned off Will and Josef and Simon. I just copied what they were doing and found my own way, and I’m really enjoying it, and I just love the racing.

“INDYCAR is oval racing. I feel like we have to have ovals. I enjoy it. It’s part of our DNA, and that’s why I’ve come to America for INDYCAR racing for ovals.”

Will Power who qualified second and finished third in St. Pete starts fourth. Power, has nine top 2 Row starting spot in Texas to go along with a pair of wins.

Josef Newgarden starts seventh in his No. 2 Chevrolet. Newgarden, won this race in 2019, was third a year later and sixth and second respectively last year. In fact, other than Race 2 last year, Newgarden is the only Chevy driver to have led a lap at Texas since 2018. So, he’s a factor on Sunday too and desperately needs a top five after being outside the top 10 in St. Pete.

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