Emotional runner-up finish for Malukas on Saturday in WWTR, the rookie gaining high respect from peers too

MADISON, Ill — This was the moment that Daiva and Henry Malukas dreamt of when they set off from Lithuania and came to America. The land of opportunity. That’s exactly what the Malukas’ did. They then created a family. Now a new opportunity arose – racing. That opportunity has grown to this exact moment under the lights of the western Illinois sky on Saturday night.

The emotion poured out of the Malukas family. 1st from David, then from mom Daiva who gave a massive hug to her baby who’s grown to a mature young man who’s shining in his rookie NTT INDYCAR Series season. Then came a chorus of cheers from the grandstands and tons of hugs and handshakes of from team members.

Finally, the bear hug that lifted young Malukas off his feet. In came his dad. Henry was moved. His son finished 2nd in an INDYCAR race. It was a full circle moment for the two.

Racing is a bond that grows families closer together. Same thing for race car drivers too.

David Malukas would watch his dad race when he was little. So naturally he wanted to do so himself.

“It’s a lot,” Malukas told me last month on his dads influence on him becoming a race car driver too. “When you’re a kid, you kind of just follow what’s been given, right. Especially when I was a six-year-old and said I want to become a racer, that doesn’t just come out of the blue. That was influence from my father. He never did anything on the serious end, but he always loved it when he was a kid. Never really had the opportunity to do anything for him with being in the Soviet Union.

“But when he came to America he obviously got himself a Corvette to go around Road America and do some club races with a couple of friends, and we both together went into go-karting and he was in DD2 and I was in Kid Karts and it was just like a nice father-and-son moment, and throughout the years we ended up just following that path, and after a few years I was obsessed. I was glued to it, and I could never leave the racing world.”

For the younger Malukas, he quickly shined. It became something he knew he wanted to do.

“I think it was when I was 12 or 13 years old when I first went over to Europe and ended up winning the X30 Le Mans World Finals,” Malukas said on when he first knew this was something he’d be good at and could make a living doing. “I remember that experience then. When I knew that, it’s like, this is very serious. Of course we’re also doing it just to have fun, but there’s definitely some moments where it’s like more on the working end, but every step of the way it’s been amazing, and yeah, still early stages — back then it felt like it was many years after and I just chose to take it seriously, but it was still early days. Yeah, it’s been a wild ride.”

Now, he’s a podium finisher in the NTT INDYCAR Series.

The 20-year old rookie driver also grew up idolizing Team Penske. He restarted after the lengthy rain delay behind 4 cars. 3 of which were Penske’s. If he was going to win this race, and he had a great shot of doing so, he had to pass them all.

“Yeah, so Ross, my engineer, he said, You see the leaders, go get ’em. I saw them go through one and two. Oh, my God, they’re Penskes. I’m going behind Penskes right now. This is crazy,” Malukas admitted.

“To me, as a kid, I used to always watch. I just could only dream of it. Every time through practice, every time they passed me, I always let them by, Man…

“It’s definitely special to me. I was trying so hard to not get nervous. I mean, I was nervous, but I was trying so hard not to get overexcited and do something stupid. Yeah, it’s definitely intimidating when there’s two Penskes in front of you.”

He passed Will Power for 4th. Then Pato O’Ward for 3rd. Then after closing in hard on Scott McLaughlin, he passed him on the high side in Turns 1-2 just after taking the white flag. 20 seconds later, he was crossing the finish line in 2nd.

“Yeah, so Pancho (Carter, his spotter) came on the radio. I was trying so hard. They know how to do this. Blocking my line and stuff. Man, this is so hard. But Pancho said, Try going wide in one and two, three and four.

“One and two didn’t work. They sweeped it. It felt really good.

“I just said, You know, two to go, let’s try it.

“It worked very well. I had that bit of clean air on the front right wing, I was able to get a run. Because the track was so much quicker with it being so much later, I hit the limiter in sixth gear. I couldn’t get a tow or suck on him. We had to go two-wide in one and two. Scary going wide there. Definitely getting some loose ends.

“Overall, so happy that we managed to go back out. We knew from practice yesterday the cooler the track got, the better our car ended up being compared to the others around us. We knew we had a good car going into it. Knew I had a chance.”

That chance came via a timely pit call on Lap 211.

The yellow would fall 3 laps later for rain. He sat in 5th place and on new tires. If we got back going, he knew that he had an opportunity to do something special. Once he knew that going back going was realistic, how much could he keep that thought process out of his head? How could he keep his nerves calm?

David Malukas at World Wide Technology Raceway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

“Yeah, I wanted to get going so badly,” he told me. “You just sit and you dwell on it, you overthink, do different simulations in your head of how the start is going to go, what’s going to happen.

“At the same time I knew the longer we waited, the better our car was going to be. The cooler the temperatures, going off the information we had at practice. I knew the engineers were getting excited because they knew the situation as well. They’re giving me little tips. I could tell they were a little bit nervous.

“Okay, I kind of just need to get away from them. I could feel their nervousness coming off me. I wanted to go out and focus.

“Yeah, it was a lot longer than whatever the delay was. To me it just felt like it was a day. I just wanted to get back out.”

Still, a runner-up was phenomenal for the young driver and gives him something big to build off of for the future.

“Yeah, it means so much,” he said. “From the start of this season, started off rough, making a lot of rookie mistakes. But I kept on learning. I knew the car was getting so good, the team was doing such a good job to get the connection and chemistry on what we needed, what I wanted. It was going so well. I knew the car deserved a podium.

“It feels so good to finally get one with the three races left in the season. Yeah, I’m through the roof.”

His peers took notice too.

“Dave got a good run. I could see what he was doing,” McLaughlin said of Malukas. I couldn’t get out wide because of the confidence I had in the rear of the car.

“But he did a phenomenal job. He’s been doing an amazing job all year. First podium in INDYCAR is pretty hard to come by, especially on a short oval.”

Even race winner knew Malukas was coming.

“I would give Malukas a lot of respect,” Newgarden said. “He’s probably been one of the cleanest rookies I’ve ever seen. He’s been almost too respectful. They talk about that on the broadcast. It’s funny to watch back. Malukas, he puts his elbows out, Townsend keeps saying that. Poor David. He’s been doing a great job.

“It is true that if you’re too respectful you can get run over in this series. I said that in Nashville. I didn’t say it in joking fashion. That’s how people race these days. You have to put your elbows out, you got to fight people now. If you don’t, they’re going to fight you back and you’re going to end up passed or in the wall.

“He’s just been like the most respectful driver I’ve seen out of a rookie in a long time. I think he’s starting to, How much can I push on people? He probably would have done that tonight. But I would have felt comfortable racing with him. I think he’s the best rookie I’ve seen in a long time to be racing respectfully.”

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