McLaughlin Becoming A Rising Star At Team Penske

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 19 2022

Scott McLaughlin has been a bright light at Team Penske this season. (Photo by Jake Galstad/LAT for Chevy Racing)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – A self-described “competitive bloke,” native New Zealander Scott McLaughlin has emerged as Team Penske’s latest international INDYCAR ace.

McLaughlin qualified on-pole enroute to his first NTT IndyCar Series victory in last month’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla. McLaughlin’s victory over reigning series champion Alex Palou of Spain and Chip Ganassi Racing looms as the perfect segue into Sunday’s XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Competing in his first oval-track race here last May 1, McLaughlin posted the lone podium result of his rookie INDYCAR season when he finished second to fellow-New Zealander Scott Dixon in Race 1 of a doubleheader. That proved to be the on-track highlight of a 16-race schedule that saw McLaughlin earn Indianapolis 500 and series Rookie of the Year honors while finishing a middling 14th in points.

McLaughlin’s breakthrough win on St. Pete’s 1.8-mile/14-turn street course delivered on the promise team and series-owner Roger Penske envisioned for Scott after importing him from the Australian V8 Supercars series. A three-time champion in full-bodied “saloon cars” over there for DJR Team Penske, McLaughlin racked-up 56 wins (fourth all-time), 76 poles and 106 top-three results between 2018-2020.

“Yeah, yeah. Look, I knew over time I would get to that point to be able to repay Roger,” McLaughlin said during a testing session on March 10 around TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval. “Certainly, I had the confidence I could do that.

“But to win at St. Pete was just an amazing relief for me. I mean, Roger was always my biggest supporter in that department and just said, ‘It’s only going to take a matter of time.’ I was very proud to be able to do it for him. He was the first one I saw when I got out of the car. It was an awesome thing for us all. We’ve been on a tremendous journey and excited for what’s ahead.”

McLaughlin led 49 of 100 laps at St. Pete to win in his 18th career series start and first with veteran engineer Ben Bretzman.

A pair of originally scheduled practices sandwiched around qualifying _ and a 30-minute session added Friday in an attempt to rubber-in the track’s troublesome second lane _ will lead into Sunday’s 248-lap/372-miler. TMS is playing host to the first of five oval races on the 2022 schedule as the only oval-event booked before the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29.

McLaughlin placed fifth among the 27-car field at the close of Saturday morning’s one-hour session with a hot lap of 222.234 mph. Former Team Penske full-timer Simon Pagenaud paced the session at 223.087 mph in his oval debut for Meyer Shank Racing in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda.

Two hours later, McLaughlin _ the last driver out during qualifying _ nearly knocked Felix Rosenqvist off-pole before settling for P2. Rosenqvist, driver of the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, earned P1 with a two-lap average of 46.8906-seconds/221.110 mph. McLaughlin will start alongside in Row 1 after putting up numbers of 46.8936-seconds/221.096 mph.

“I definitely feel a lot less unknowns coming to Texas Motor Speedway,” said McLaughlin, driver of the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet. “I got a hard run in (testing) and a good feel on the new downforce package INDYCAR is coming with this year. Yeah, feel very comfortable. Feel like I’m settling-in really well and enjoying being back and doing 220 mph.”

Dixon, of Chip Ganassi Racing, and McLaughlin collaborated to turn Race 1 last year into the Kiwi Invitational. A six-time series champion, Dixon schooled the field by leading a race-record 206 of 212 laps. Dixon wheeled his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda to a margin of victory of 0.2646-seconds over McLaughlin while registering his track-record fifth series win.

“Obviously, Scott’s a hero of mine and to run against him and try to chase him down for the win last year _ it was probably the coolest second place I’ve had forever,” said McLaughlin, a 28-year-old native of Christchurch, N.Z. “I don’t want to finish second anymore and I want to beat him. You know, we’ve always said if you’re around Scotty Dixon, like you’re going to be somewhere near the front. He’s always there. He’s there or thereabout. If we set a goal of just trying to beat No. 9 I think we’re going to be there for the championship.”

Winning the Indy 500 remains the quickest path for a driver to remain employed by Mr. Penske, whose Penske Entertainment Corp. purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions in November 2019.

The ever-popular Castroneves became the fourth driver to win the Indy 500 last May in his Indianapolis Motor Speedway debut for Meyer Shank Racing. But Helio rose to prominence via his three previous Indy 500 wins (2001, 2002, 2009) _ and fence-climbing celebration as “Spiderman” _ driving for “The Captain,” who turned 85 on Feb. 20.

Fellow-Brazilians Emerson Fittipaldi (1993) and Gil de Ferran (2003), Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia (2015) and Frenchman Pagenaud (2019) also added to the organization’s record 18 Indy 500 milk-swigging Victory Lane celebrations.

Team Penske’s retooled lineup features 2017 and 2019 series champion Josef Newgarden, of Nashville, and Australian Will Power, the 2014 series champ and winner of the 2018 Indy 500.

Newgarden said McLaughlin’s rookie open-wheel season, while not splashy, was solid. “You could see that he was clearly, you know, on-pace _ like clearly,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet.  “He was just missing some experience and some time. He’s fit in and gelled really well with this team and he’s going to have a good career here. So yeah, it’s good to see him get a win. It’s also really validating for our team.”

McLaughlin said the decision to uproot and move to the United States with American-born wife Karly was the ultimate no-brainer.

“For sure. This is the big leagues over here,” McLaughlin said. “This is an opportunity that just doesn’t come up often. Penske’s INDYCAR team is world-wide renowned and to be a part of it is pretty awesome. Yeah, I’ll race a wheelbarrow with a Penske sticker on it.”

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 19 2022
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