McLaughlin leads the Penske trio in qualifying Saturday at Mid-Ohio, his thoughts heading into Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) and why this slump was nothing compared to last year

LEXINGTON, Ohio — You win as a team, you lose as a team. That’s the motto, right? Well, that’s what Will Power is taking with him to Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). The Team Penske driver wasn’t told by his pit stand that Helio Castroneves was behind him on a hot lap. Without being aware of the situation behind, Power swerved his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet on track in the first qualifying round coming into the keyhole around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Despite having the fastest lap, he was penalized not only that one, but his 2nd quickest too for impeding Castroneves’ progress. As a result, he’ll start 21st.

“It’s totally on us,” Power said. “I talked before the session and said I’ve got to know when somebody’s on a lap, when I’m on my out-lap and we can’t get one of these penalties. And we got one of those penalties. So, that’s just given away a chance at a top six I feel like, maybe a pole.”

His teammate Josef Newgarden felt like he had a car capable of a 2nd straight win here on Sunday too. For him, he also was eliminated in the opening round of qualifying when he caught Jimmie Johnson and Tatiana Calderon on track while trying to set his quick laps on the Firestone alternates.

He was fuming mad that the caught them at the wrong time. It cost him. Instead of a third straight front row starting spot on the season and a shot at a second straight win here, he’ll roll off 14th.

On a track that 5 of the last 6 were won from the pole and 6 of the last 7 in general here from the front row, it puts both Power and Newgarden behind and making them race likely to just get inside of the top 10.

Scott McLaughlin – Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio – By: Joe Skibinski

“As you know, in the series anything can happen but you’re not going to get that lucky,” Power quipped. “You can’t start that far back that many times. You’re not going to win, put it that way. On weekends when we’ve got a car that can win, we cannot be doing this. It’s on us. We weren’t on top of that one and got a penalty, that’s the rules.”

While points leader Marcus Ericsson also was eliminated in the opening round and shares a row with Newgarden, 4th in points Pato O’Ward scored the pole.

“Yeah, I think it’s going to be all about is the race going to have a fuel number, are you going to be hitting those to be able to get the strategy, but I think from years past it’s not too bad on fuel save, so yeah, obviously — but the plan is always to stay there whenever you’re starting in first, but there’s so many variables that can happen and that can throw your race upside down or help it,” he said.

“Tomorrow I think it’s just going to be all about running our race. It’s a long race. It’s a lot of laps. But I think we can do a really good — it can be a very good solid points day for us.

“I mean, it for sure makes your life a lot easier when you think of it in terms of where you’re starting. Logically you don’t have to pass anybody when you start first place, right.”

Luckily for Newgarden and Power, their teammate Scott McLaughlin did have a good qualifying day. He’ll start next to O’Ward on the front row.

Remember that front row win stat here? It caters to McLaughlin too.

McLaughlin (1:06.8382-seconds) will start alongside of O’Ward on the front row in his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet. While he’s faded down to 9th in points entering the weekend, he’ll do his best to make life miserable for O’Ward in order to help his teammates out in the pinch that they’ll start off in.

McLaughlin started 2022 off with his first career pole in St. Pete and turned that into a win a day later. In the next race at Texas, he qualified second but led a race-high 186 of 248 laps in a runner-up result in what was a photo finish with Newgarden.

That’s where the tide turned.

He was 14th in Long Beach. 6th in Barber. 20th and 29th in the Indy two setp, 19th in Belle Isle. Road America was a clean weekend of qualifying 9th and finishing 7th. That turned the ship back towards the right direction.

Now, he’s on the front row in his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet.

“We’ve had this coming for a while,” he said. “We felt like we had reasonable pace, and we’ve been wanting to sort of build on that bit by bit, and to finally sort of nail it in qualifying and get through the Fast Six and keep going was nice. Then to compete for pole and be as close as we were to Pato was fun.

“Really pumped for tomorrow. It’s all about qualifying here in some ways, so hopefully look forward to starting off good and getting on with it.”

While this slump wasn’t ideal, McLaughlin says that it was nothing compared to a disappointing rookie season alst year. See, the New Zealand native isn’t used to not winning. His 3 Super Cars titles and nearly 60 wins paint a different picture than what we saw in 2021 out of him.

“I think it just — I went through so much adversity last year that this was nothing,” he said. “This is water off a duck’s back in some ways to what was going on. We were still — the last few races unfortunately haven’t gone great for us. We were competing potentially to be in top 5s and whatnot. It’s not like the pace wasn’t there.

“I think it’s hard going from my mentality of in Australia where I was winning a lot and I think the last — last year in Australia we won 14 races or something. It’s hard to go from a mentality of just cutthroat, you have to win every weekend, if you don’t it’s a bad race, to just coping with top 10s, top 15s. Regardless of what situation you are, you’re a competitive beast, you built yourself out to be. Every person in here, every driver is a competitive individual.

“It’s very hard to sort of get out of that and just go, okay, well, I’ve got to learn. I’ve got to just build with this. I’ve got to build with the team. I’ve got to build with the car. It does take some time, and it definitely took me more time than I thought. I think Tim and Roger knew exactly how long it was going to take. That’s why they’re the experts.

“I just had to trust the process, trust them and trust what we had going on here, and I think, yeah, we are in the right spot. I’m competing for top 5s every week, top 8s every week. I think we’re right where we want to be, but we’ve got a long which to go before we’re where Josef is right now, and I’ve got certainly a nice person to groove myself on.

“Last year we lost ourselves a little bit because the pace wasn’t there. That’s sort of — that was what was the tough pill to swallow. But yeah, certainly last year shaped me to be — trust the process, trust what I’m doing is right.”

For the on track portion of McLaughlin’s day, he said that he didn’t quite nail Turn 12, which is the first turn, and then probably Turn 2 that he felt like he went really deep.

“Yeah, Turn 2. Probably cost myself a little bit of time there,” he continued. “But look, I think Pato’s lap was pretty stout. I think that’s very strong — to be honest when I crossed the line I was like, that must be pretty close, if not pole, because we did a run early in qualifying on a used set and went out in 67.5. To do a 66.8 was good, and then Pato’s 66.7, so it shows how much the track evolved. Anyway, I deliberately told the guys, don’t tell me the time that I’m chasing; just let me drive. That sort of worked out well.”

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