INDIANAPOLIS — Scott McLaughlin is vastly improved from his rookie season in 2021. The Team Penske driver has trimmed half from of his standing in the points already as he finished 14th as a rookie last year and is currently 7th in the NTT INDYCAR Series points at the midway mark of this one. However, it hasn’t always been an easy path to get here.
McLaughlin was flat out miserable last season. For a guy that scored 56 Supercars wins and three straight championships during his time in Australia, he’s not used to losing very often. However, he had to take a large bite of humble pie last year in his first full time season in INDYCAR.
It’s not an easy series to race in. In other series, you try and search for tenths of a second. Here, it’s a hundredth. It’s the same chassis that’s been here since 2012. The teams have had the same people cycle through them. The tracks are virtually the same. So for a new driver, how do you gain on guys that have been doing this for half of their lives.
A large chunk of the NTT INDYCAR Series today is from the Road to Indy. They’ve seen these tracks before and raced on them in an open wheel machine. McLaughlin grew up driving cars with fenders.
That’s why despite a 14th place in the final standings last year, I was still impressed. He had 5 top 10’s including a runner-up on his first ever oval at Texas.
Still, it wasn’t good enough for McLaughlin. He’s used to winning and driving for a guy (Roger Penske) that knows nothing other than winning.
“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,’ McLaughlin said. “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.”
That’s why McLaughlin didn’t flinch when he found a dry spell this season. He won the season opener in St. Pete. He was 2nd in Texas. 6th in Barber. That had him 2nd in points entering the Month of May at Indy.
That’s where the rough stretch began. McLaughlin finished 20th in the GMR Grand Prix. He was 29th in the Indy 500. He was 19th in Belle Isle. That dropped him down to 10th in the standings. McLaughlin just needed a good weekend to turn this all around.
He got it in Road America in qualifying 9th and finishing 7th. The tide was turning back in the positive direction again.
“I think it just — I went through so much adversity last year that this was nothing,” McLaughlin 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.
“Look, I think it’s just all about just belief, believing in what you can do, going back to the basics and just trusting your feel, trusting what got me here was what I should just go back to and just trust. That’s certainly what I’ve done the last six months, last eight months.”
He turned that pace into a front row starting spot and a win in Mid-Ohio. Now, it’s time to turn this into a potential championship.
McLaughlin is 1 of just 2 drivers to have won multiple times in 2022. He enters Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (3 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network) 69 points out of the lead. The thing is, he’s also only 4 points away from 5th in the standings too and 32 points behind Alex Palou. If he can get by Palou in the next few races, then Penske would have 3 of the top 4 drivers barring a setback from Will Power and Josef Newgarden.
“I just never give up, but in INDYCAR things can change in a heartbeat,” McLaughlin quipped. “I’ve just got to keep building — every race I’ve got to keep making the most of the situation that I’ve got.
“I’m excited for what’s ahead. A win is a big thing for us, moved us forward a little bit. I fell like Toronto is going to be a track that’s going to suit me. I haven’t been there but I’m excited for it, and then Iowa I felt really strong at the test and it’s two races there. If we can have a solid next three races, who knows where it puts us.
“Yeah, really proud of where I’m at, where my development has gone, and I think I’m just enjoying it more,” he said. “I’m having a ball. It’s just so much fun here, living in the States and just having a lot of fun.”