MADISON, Ill — Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 started under the blueish gray skies in western Illinois. No, the clouds weren’t shadows from the Gateway Arch, rather than actually being rain clouds blowing in to wreck havoc of this 248-lap race at the World Wide Technology Raceway.
That altered the course of the 15th round of the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season. While a familiar name was celebrating in victory lane, the way he got there and whom he was fighting for to get there was shaped by how this race started and the conditions that it ended in.
2nd place finisher David Malukas knew that his car was better under the lights. He figured that based off of how strong his No. 18 Dallara-Honda was in final practice last night. 3rd place finisher Scott McLaughlin knew that his car wasn’t good when the conditions got cooler at the World Wide Technology Raceway.
So when the rain came and red flagged Saturday’s race, each were facing opposite emotions.
“I think our car was very good in the afternoon, late evening when the sun was still out,” said McLaughlin. “After the sun went away, lost my balance in that last stint. Didn’t have what Josef and David had. David was strong, coming at us really hard. Obviously me and Josef pulled away. I sort of knew I didn’t have much.
“Midway through the stint, started loose. Hard to get runs similar what I had in the daylight.”
Malukas had an opposite approach.
“Overall, so happy that we managed to go back out,” he said. “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.”
Was race winner Josef Newgarden concerned like his teammate?
“I was pleasantly surprised and very, very satisfied with my car tonight,” he admitted. “I thought it was hooked up tremendously once we got about midway through the race.”
So on that final restart once we got back going after a 2+ hour rain delay, Newgarden knew that he needed to maximize his new advantage but also knew that he was fighting against a teammate for the win still too. He’s been in a battle with a teammate for a win here before and he didn’t want to leave with emotions running high against not only a teammate, but a good friend too.
“I’m thankful to my teammate,” he said. “I thought Scott drove me with a tremendous amount of respect. He raced me hard, he wasn’t giving me anything, but just gave me a lot of respect like you would expect from a teammate. I think he goes above and beyond sometimes.”
McLaughlin admitted though that he had nothing for Newgarden still on that restart.
“No. I think the slipstream effect here, when you can get a run, it works pretty good,” he said of the final restart. “Not surprised. I did all I could to try and break away as much as I could. I went into one pretty hard. I think if we had got through the turn three, maybe I could have held him off. He was quick.
“Like I said, I think my car, it just wasn’t quick enough once the sun went down. That’s part of it. Unfortunately I think if we just keep going green, it would have been different things if it hadn’t have rained.”
See prior to the restart though, Newgarden wasn’t too happy with his buddy. He felt like McLaughlin was making some aggressive moves against him on track and he didn’t take too kindly to that. So they had a chat during the rain delay.
“Yeah, I mean, first with Scott, it’s a little bittersweet because we have a great friendship,” said Newgarden. “He’s a tremendous competitor. I rank Scott as one of the most elite drivers in the world, not just here but in the world. He’s top class. Very difficult to beat.
“We get along really great. He’s a tremendous teammate, hard worker. It’s not the easiest friendship to have because we’re competing.
“At the end of the day he wanted to win the race and I wanted to win the race. I was frustrated that we slipped behind him on the pit cycle. I felt like we had the position on him, and that frustrated me.
“I think ultimately we have a tremendous working relationship. Nights like this are good. At the end of the day if we’re battling together, things are going well. We want to see that pretty often. I think we will see that often. Scott is not going to go anywhere. He’s only going to get better. I hope we have more battles. They will be tough because I respect him a lot, consider him a friend, but he’s also a competitor.”
In saying this, Newgarden has won here 4 times in 7 tries. However, he admits that something needs to be done to help the 2nd lane come in.
“I just wish we could get a second lane going,” he quipped. “Man, this race would be awesome, like gnarly, if you could get a second lane. It would be really, really cool.”
He admits that progress was made. The extra session was positive.
“I they we worked that lane in a bit more,” he continued. “We used it. I used it. I never thought I’d get up there. It definitely was usable. I think we made progress.
“We need to continue to examine this track and how we can make it even better for racing. I don’t think it was a dud by any means, got exciting in the middle. But what can we do in the future to make it better? I think we got some ideas.”
Could it be moving it back to under the lights?
“These decisions aren’t up to me, but I would always race in the lights here,” Newgarden admitted. “It looks cool, feels cool. I think the grip is better. We could look at our downforce package for this track specifically and see how we could improve it. I think if we changed it a bit we could make it a lot better.
“I don’t say that lightly, that it’s not in my decision power. The series, the ownership, the promoters, they absolutely weight, everybody weights our decision plenty. I think we get to lot of say in what happens. Our opinion absolutely matters. I don’t feel like we are unheard. There’s a lot more going on that factors into when we run a race.
“I love night races. To me they’re just better. It’s fun. It’s fun to race these cars at night. They’re exciting, they look good, they feel good. The atmosphere is there. My vote would be to be at night.
“But there’s a lot more that goes into it than just saying, Hey, we’re going to run at night. Maybe we can work more in. I would be all for that if you had my vote.
“There’s a lot to digest and a lot of good things to come out of here.”
Another part of the dullness early was the follow the leader action. Newgarden said that he felt like everyone went on fuel strategy mode early in efforts to make it to the end on a 3 stopper. By doing so, you couldn’t push. At that point, no one was really wanting to risk going off strategy.
“It was a bit processional in the first half. Literally every car just went to fuel save. Everyone wanted to try to make the three-stop work. I was surprised at how many people committed. Seemed like the whole field flipped to it. Wasn’t a lot happening then.
“As soon as that caution 150, 155, something like that, when it provided that opportunity to pit again, it changed things up, put people on different strategies. That made it really exciting.”