McLaughlin bummed about 3rd, but happy to be finding himself again in a strong sophomore season

MADISON, Ill — A year ago, Scott McLaughlin said that he would have been absolutely elated to finish on the podium in an NTT INDYCAR Series race. 12 months later, he’s bummed. He shook his head in disappointment while wiping a wry smile about being happy as well.

It was a mix of emotions for the 2nd year driver in the series. He crossed the finish line in Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 in 3rd.

“I’m absolutely disappointed,” he said. “Look, the main thing was that Penske won. For our team and Roger, it was a big deal. He just wanted us to get home. That was a big sort of talking point for us before the restart as well.

“Look, like I said, I’m disappointed with third, which is a great thing. I’m feeling like we’re really building for the end of the year but also start of next year.”

He’s doing a phenomenal job of doing so. While he didn’t gain much ground in the championship (58 points out entering, 54 points out leaving) he’s at least now consistently up front on a weekly basis. Saturday night was McLaughlin’s 4th straight top 4 finish.

“Look, a win would have been really nice tonight. Ultimately top five would be fantastic right now,” he told me. “But we’re still in the fight, which is the main thing. Two races to go, who knows what will happen.

“Yeah, still feeling like we’re just going to attack these next two races with nothing to lose, have a bit of fun.”

Even if a championship doesn’t bode out of the 2022 season, he’s excited about his future in a way now that he didn’t at this time last season. Last year, he was down and out. He was lost. He wasn’t used to not winning. The learning curve he felt was steep and putting him in a down mood.

2022 has been a year that’s revitalized the New Zealand native.

“Yeah. Starting to learn who I am now,” he quipped. “I’ve just had good teammates, got a good team, good cars, for me to be able to extract the speed and be really comfortable with it and learn quickly. I’m very thankful for that.

“Yeah, I think off-track life is a lot easier. I feel a lot more at home in the INDYCAR SERIES. Know a lot more faces. It doesn’t feel as unknown, even in the media, sponsorship land, even the Penske organization. It was a lot to take on last year. I’m very happy with where we’re at right now.”

One thing that’s been an odd comfort are ovals. He had no past experience on them prior to 2021. Now he’s scored 5 top 5 finishes on them. Yes, out of his 9 career top 5 finishes, 5 ar eon ovals including 2 straight here.

“Yeah, I think oval racing for me, it’s just special to be able to race in INDYCAR on an oval,” McLaughlin notes. “It’s part of the DNA of INDYCAR racing. Certainly hope there’s more ovals in the future. I think many others would agree with me.”

As far as his race, McLaughlin did the undercut to get the advantage over Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden. He pit for the final time on Lap 206 from 2nd. That came after he steadily advanced through the field prior.

See, McLaughlin had a top 3 car all day but when Jack Harvey crashed on Lap 145, they elected to do something different. He and Newgarden pit on Lap 148 during that caution. It was a brilliant move. While they had just pit on Lap 124 (McLaughlin) and Lap 126 (Newgarden), this was a move that was going to really pay off or really backfire.

But with 11 cars on the lead lap, what did they have to lose still though too?

So they pit.

It paid off.

McLaughlin was passed quickly by Newgarden but he followed him up though. While Newgarden set sails, McLaughlin passed the same cars just a few laps later.

Newgarden led 2nd place Pato O’Ward by 6.9040-seconds on Lap 175. 5 laps later McLaughlin was into 2nd instead. He was coming. On Lap 180, McLaughlin trailed O’Ward by 6.8208-seconds. On Lap 190, it was down to 4.1009-seconds. 5 laps later, it wad down to 3.7103-seconds. 5 more laps later, it was under 3 seconds to a 2.8719-second gap. On Lap 205, McLaughlin cut the deficit down to 1.6372-seconds.

They’d pit one lap later.

Newgarden pit one lap after that. The undercut worked as McLaughlin was now ahead of Newgarden on strategy. After the few cars that were trying to stretch the fuel out pitted, McLaughlin was handed the lead on Lap 213. A caution came out one lap after for rain. Was this it?

It unfortunately for McLaughlin wasn’t. They’d end up going back green and he was passed on the restart by Newgarden. McLaughlin lost 2nd to David Malukas on the final lap and had to settle for 3rd in his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet.

“Yeah. I mean, I did what I thought. I went the high line against Josef, that didn’t work. I went low line against Dave thinking, He’s a rookie, he might not, he might not. Then he did. Oh, well, I was wrong. Went around the outside,” McLaughlin said.

“It was a solid move. It was awesome. That’s what oval racing is all about. I left him enough room, he left me enough room, we got through there two-by-two. It was a stellar pass. What we’re doing with building the lanes, making them really nice for oval racing is really cool.

“I’m absolutely disappointed. I felt like we were really solid there today in the daylight. Yeah, sort of lost it there at the end.”

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