FORT WORTH, TX — A year ago, Scott McLaughlin was thrilled to be runner-up here at the Texas Motor Speedway. It’s amazing how far a year comes. Now, McLaughlin brought the same No. 3 Chevrolet home runner-up. It may be a different paint scheme, but everything else was the same.
The only difference?
McLaughlin’s emotions. Now that he’s found his confidence back, he’s quickly finding out again that finishing in second place sucks.
“Look, I’m gutted. I’ll reevaluate everything over the next few days,” McLaughlin said after his fourth career top five finish. “But it’s funny, like last year I was fist pumping and jumping out of the car finishing second. I’m like today, It sucks. That’s how it is. That’s how we’re growing. I’ll learn from this, get better.”
He led a race-high 186 of 248 laps and was well in control of the race until he wasn’t. Lapped traffic got in the way which made his car not so good anymore. Josef Newgarden moved to put his car where McLaughlin wasn’t on the final lap and it paid off.
He passed McLaughlin on the outside and won by 6-hundreths of a second.
“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 continued. “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.
“I knew there were going to be dramas in three and four. 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.”
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.”
Newgarden though, notes that McLaughlin didn’t do anything wrong. It was Newgarden who took all the risk and that he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“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.”
McLaughlin led 49 of 100 laps in his first ever INDYCAR triumph in the season opener on the streets of St. Pete. That victory came a day after scoring his first ever series pole. Now that we’re in Texas, the site of his best result last year, his confidence was high leading into it.
“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.”
This was huge for his psyche because after a rough go of it in his rookie season last year, he was down. He wasn’t used to not winning. 56 wins overseas was a lot. To go from that to being lucky for a top 10, well that hurt his confidence.
See, he came over here in the middle of a pandemic. For a family man that’s close to his parents, to go through a season like he endured in 2021 was difficult to not have them by his side either.
It was just he and his wife and that’s it.
“Yeah, I came over three times,” he said. “I had won straight back-to-back championships, and I know I’m a rookie and I wasn’t kidding myself, but at the same time it’s hard to go from the mindset of, okay, win every week and that’s all that matters, nothing less, to going, hey, I’d love a top 15. I don’t work like that. I’m a competitive bloke. I want to win. I want to get poles. I want to dominate races and not even worry about things.
“It definitely took — I did that for four years, and then coming here and was basically — it just mucks with your head, and you’ve got to be realistic about things, and I put a lot of pressure on myself, like why isn’t this happening, why am I sucking in qualifying when I’m good? I’ve done that before, I’ve proved that.
“It’s a mind game, man, and you’ve got to be on top of it. You’ve got to just believe in yourself.
“Like I said, Karly has been my absolute rock with that. She’s put the belief in me. I would be nothing without her.
“Definitely some hard times, but she’s pulled my head in, Roger’s pulled my head in, and we just got on with it. Speaking pretty candid, it’s just how it is. As a professional sportsman you go through highs and lows. You’re getting paid good money and you’re running 15th, it’s not good. For me it’s not good. I drive for the biggest motorsport team in the world. For me it wasn’t good.
“But I feel like today, this weekend, we proved that hard work, perseverance, you can get there, and I felt very proud of that.
“I miss my mom and dad dearly and my family. Wish you guys were here. What a day.”
The last time he’s seen his parents?
January 2020 he said. He last saw his sister during his INDYCAR debut in Oct. 2020. That was the last time for both.
“Yeah, I miss them dearly. My mom and dad, they’re the ones that got me here and made me believe in myself. My mom and dad have been infatuated with the USA for many years, and I guess that put the love of the USA and the want to come over here to the big leagues when I was a young kid, even way before my Supercars success.
“Then obviously I met just a guy named Roger Penske and we kicked it off. I’m tremendously grateful for the position my mom and dad put me in and the position Roger and Tim Cindric put me in.”