FORT WORTH, TX — Scott McLaughlin is gutted but wouldn’t honestly do much differently in his final pursuit of victory in Sunday’s XPEL 375 at the Texas Motor Speedway. Josef Newgarden, the driver to topped McLaughlin by just .0669-seconds says that if he were McLaughlin, he wouldn’t do anything different either.
McLaughlin led Newgarden by .3534-seconds with 10 to go. It remained there with five to go at .2593-seconds. In fact, at the white flag, it was .3149-second advantage.
However, with lap cars in front, Newgarden made his move. He was either going to wreck or go down trying. It paid off in an outside move in Turn 4. Newgarden went high, McLaughlin was low. They had a drag race to the stripe to which Newgarden held off McLaughlin by .0669-seconds.
“I’m telling you, I was yelling,” Newgarden said. “I was on the radio way before the line, which I don’t normally do that. You don’t do that. You stay in the race. I was just so pumped up that, one, the car was sticking, I wasn’t flying towards the fence. But I’ve never had a race end that way. I’ve never been in a position to capitalize on that type of victory.
“I was really excited. Still really am. That’s one of the coolest wins, probably the coolest win I’ve ever had in the 2 car. Hopefully we have more of those. Yeah, really, really neat to be a part of that.”
So, how do you get McLaughlin losing out on becoming just the eighth driver to win back-to-back races to start an NTT INDYCAR Series season off with?
“Looking back at it, if I would have thought about it in my head, which I already have done a million times, my car was tightening up, especially in traffic,” McLaughlin said. “It probably wasn’t handling exactly how it had at the start earlier in the race. I was sort of maxed out on my tools. I was trying to control the traffic, couldn’t catch the traffic too much. At the end the traffic checked up into me.”
Lapped traffic played a pivotal role in how Sunday’s race at the Texas Motor Speedway would end. McLaughlin had the most dominant car in leading 186 of 248 laps. But, somehow the driver who only led three laps topped him.
That’s because McLaughlin’s car wasn’t handling right in traffic and combine that with an overzealous move Newgarden made, well the rest was history.
“I knew there were going to be dramas in three and four,” McLaughlin continued. “I struggled with my turns at three and four. I guess I wasn’t prepared to take the risk on the outside at 3-4, which looking back at it I should have. My teammate Josef, obviously Josef chose to. Once he was on the outside of me, I can’t do anything.
“It would have been risky for me, for both of us, if I had moved. I mean, when I got told that he’s in the second lane, I was like, Oh, here we go (laughter).
“Looking back at it, I was just too tentative. At the end of the day I’ll learn from that. I just didn’t want to go out the last corner, hit the fence, not have either of us win, because I quite easily could have taken Josef out.
“It is what it is. At the end of the day it’s one of those days when you look back at the end of the year, championship-wise it might work out very good.”
Newgarden though, notes that he had all the risk to take. His move was all checkers or wreckers with nothing in between.
“Oh, yeah. I mean, look, Scott didn’t do anything wrong,’ he said. “I took a risk. I mean, I took a big risk there at the end. I just held it in 3-4 to see if it would work. If it didn’t work, it was going to be on me that I took a risk and I didn’t work out.
“I made that in a very split-second decision. I’m serious when I say I was pretty much conceding with a lap and a half to go. It was going to be what it was going to be. I wasn’t in position correctly for the final stint.
“I just went for it. He didn’t do anything wrong, up on traffic, getting loose. I was a little stronger than him at the end for sure. It would be unwise, it actually shows his wisdom. It would have been very unwise for him to take a flyer and go high side without knowing what’s going to happen. He won the first race, leading the championship. That would have been silly for him to do that decision.
“For me it was a risk but I think it was somewhat calculated. I saw people going up there toward the beginning and middle of the race. I took a calculated risk and it worked out.”
As far as how much experience played a role?
“It helps tremendously,” said Newgarden. “I have been here a lot more than he has. This is my 11th appearance at Texas. I have a lot more to draw from experience-wise. I’ve seen these situations a lot more than he has. From that standpoint, it’s an unfair advantage for me experience-wise on what to do or not do.”
Experience is big on ovals. Just look at the top starters for Sunday’s race. 5 of the 7 had at least 150 starts in the series.
“Last year Helio winning the 500, all these experienced guys, they are strong on the ovals. It’s not by coincidence,” third place finisher Marcus Ericsson said. “I think experience is very important on the ovals.”
It still doesn’t help how McLaughlin feels. He’s gutted. He lost a race he dominated. Has this happened to him before and if so, what can he learn from then and apply to now?
As far as what he could have done differently and what he learned from it?
“I lost the championship on the last lap in 2017. That is very similar, but not as hectic,” he said.
“What would I do different? Probably take the high line. Like I said, I didn’t risk that today. I think, yeah, should I have? Yeah, probably. That’s an experience thing that I’ll learn and come back with, maybe think about that for next year.
“Like I said to you guys before, I was pushing out of three. I didn’t have the confidence to run that line, that groove behind those cars. Once he was up there, like I had nothing. I mean, it is what it is. I’ll learn from it.
“Yeah, that’s INDYCAR racing, oval racing. It’s why we love it. I think today’s package, I had a lot of fun out there regardless. Passing. When we ended up having the fuel race, I slipped back to fourth, had to work my way back to second, almost the lead. That was fun. It’s what I remember watching when I was a kid.
“I certainly hope we continue to build with this package and get this better. Once you have a bit of two lanes through this track, it’s going to be a lot of fun and we’ll have races like we did today.”