Scott McLaughlin fell short of what he called his “overall” goal – he wanted to finish 12th in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season – but he achieved a consolation prize he very much valued. He earned the Rookie of the Year Award.
McLaughlin beat Romain Grosjean by 33 points as they finished 14th and 15th, respectively, in the standings.
“You get one shot to win this, and it’s a proud moment, regardless,” said McLaughlin, who became the first Team Penske driver to earn the award. “My ultimate goal was potentially top 12 (in the standings), top 10 in the championship – you always strive for more.
“But to win Rookie of the Year will stick with me forever, and no one will take it away from me. It’s a proud moment.”
McLaughlin finished 11th in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, securing the first-year honor when Grosjean went to pit road late in the race with bent left-rear suspension following wall contact.
Grosjean (No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR) finished 24th in the 28-car field, 10 laps off the pace.
McLaughlin’s season was highlighted by a second-place finish in the May 1 race at Texas Motor Speedway, and his advantage on Grosjean came by participating in all 16 races. Grosjean skipped the first three oval races of the season, including the double-points Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. McLaughlin scored 82 points in those races.
The driver of the No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet who won three consecutive Australian Supercars championships acknowledged having an inconsistent year, but he said his confidence began to soar in the second half of the season.
“St. Louis or potentially before that, I felt like I had a really good handle on the car, improving in leaps and bounds with confidence in the car,” he said. “It really sets me up well for 2022. I feel very excited.
“Qualifying is still my Achilles heel right now, with the different compounds and stuff and just getting used to tires, but I’m happy. I think I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve underperformed and overperformed. I’ve had a podium. I’ve been close to having some semi-good results at the Indy 500. I competed in my first Indy 500, and I’ve really enjoyed it.
“I’m very proud of this year because it could have gone one of two ways.”
McLaughlin will return to Team Penske in 2022, and his goal is finish in the top 10 of the standings. He went on to say he believes finishing in the top eight is realistic.
As announced Friday, Grosjean will move to the No. 28 DHL Honda of Andretti Autosport, replacing Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“I’m pretty happy with everything we’ve achieved,” said Grosjean, who won an NTT P1 Award in May for being the fastest qualifier for the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. “Getting three podiums has been amazing.
“The last race in Long Beach didn’t come our way, but we’ve learned so much. I’ve had an incredible time with Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, and I can’t thank them enough for giving me this opportunity to drive the (car).
“Now, I’m looking forward to the future.”
Johnson ‘Excited’ for 2022
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson didn’t win INDYCAR’s Rookie of the Year Award, but he was nonetheless pleased with his first open-wheel season, particularly his performance in the last couple of races. Both resulted in season-best 17th-place finishes.
“So many lessons learned, so many amazing experiences had through the course of this year,” said Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 Carvana Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing. “Certainly, my growth in the season was something I’m very proud of, and (I) feel very competitive.
“I had a nice couple of races to close out the season and actually raced our way into 22nd in (the standings) today. So, I’m really proud of that.”
Newgarden Wins NTT P1 Award
The NTT P1 Award that Josef Newgarden won at Long Beach on Saturday allowed him to break a tie with Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward to win the season’s NTT P1 Award, presented to the driver who scored the most points after winning the pole at a race.
In the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden won a series-high four poles this season, pushing his career total to 15. That ties him with Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya for 20th place on the sport’s all-time chart. Two more poles will tie Newgarden with Emerson Fittipaldi.
Newgarden also won the season award, which was instituted in 2013, in 2018. Not surprisingly, Will Power, who has 63 career poles, has won the award most often – four times. Simon Pagenaud has won it twice. Dario Franchitti was the inaugural winner in 2013.
Other award winners were the No. 2 Team Penske crew of Josef Newgarden for the Firestone Pit Stop Performance Award for the shortest amount of accumulated time in pit lane all season and Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the TAG Heuer “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” Award for advancing the most cumulative places during the season.
Castroneves, Rossi Tangle in Warmup
Remember this for the future: Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves now have “a history.” And according to Rossi, they developed it not long after Castroneves joined Meyer Shank Racing for five of the final six races of this season.
Sunday’s clash between the two Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winners occurred in Sunday’s morning warmup session. Rossi was getting Andretti Autosport’s No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda up to speed after pitting when Castroneves’s No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda caught him just ahead of the circuit’s famous fountain complex of corners. Castroneves’ right front tire hit Rossi’s left rear, sending Rossi into a brief slide. Castroneves’ car also hit the wall on the left side.
Rossi’s car did not suffer damage, but Castroneves’ car required repair that forced him to miss the final 20 minutes of the important 30-minute session. He was furious.
“I’m the old guy here,” the 46-year-old Brazilian said. “He’s the one with the mirror, and he should take a look and know what’s going on. Totally unnecessary, totally unnecessary … it’s ridiculous.”
Andretti Autosport has a technical alliance with Meyer Shank Racing, but Rossi said that has not made the past couple of weeks easier between the two drivers.
“Kind of since Portland things have been brewing,” he said, before retracting that last word. “(Castroneves) likes to jump in line when we’re all trying to get gaps and everything. It happened yesterday, it happened in Portland. We’re teammates. We haven’t really talked about it; now is a good time to talk about it. But the fact he thinks any of that was my fault is hilarious.
“I guess when you’re a four-time Indy 500 champion you can have your opinion, and he’s entitled to it. But he’s wrong.”
Rossi also shrugged off the notion that Castroneves is “a teammate.”
“He is, and he isn’t,” he said. “Quite honestly, (he) didn’t help Colton last week at Laguna (Seca), so I don’t know how much teammates we are being right now.”
Odds and Ends
- Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian) became the first INDYCAR driver to win the season’s final two races since Will Power in 2013. Other recent drivers to do that: Cristiano da Matta in 2001, Sam Hornish Jr. in 2002 and Sebastien Bourdais in 2007.
- Herta’s win helped him grab fifth place in the standings from Marcus Ericsson, who finished 28th and last in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda after running into the Turn 1 tire barrier while battling Rossi for position.
- Newgarden finished second in the standings for the second consecutive year. Proof of his strength, he has finished first or second in four of the past five seasons.
- Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) became the first Ganassi driver to score more points than Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda) since Dario Franchitti in 2011.
- CGR’s Barry Wanser won the Team Manager of the Year Award for a record 10th time, and this one was arguably the most special as he also was the strategist on Palou’s car this season.
- Palou’s chief mechanic, Ricky Davis, has been with Chip Ganassi’s team for 26 years, but this is his first series championship since 2013 with Dixon.
- Michael Andretti served as the race’s grand marshal, an honor bestowed upon him for bookending his 42-win INDYCAR SERIES career with race victories in 1986 and 2002. “This place has a special place in my heart,” Andretti said. Andretti’s father, Mario, won three of INDYCAR’s first four Long Beach races, the first in 1984.
- Michael Evans Behling, an Indiana native and the star of The CW television show “All-American” rode with Mario Andretti in the Ruoff Mortgage Fastest Seat in Sports.
- Other celebrities and VIPs that checked out the NTT INDYCAR SERIES today in Long Beach were Behling’s “All-American” co-stars Troy Bookins and Cody Christian, as well as “This Is Us” star Milo Ventimiglia, Darren Barnet of “Never Have I Ever” and former Formula One World Champion Jenson Button, among many others.
- While the INDYCAR season is complete, Indy Lights still has another event in its pursuit of a series champion. Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood will take a 15-point lead over David Malukas of HMD Motorsports into next weekend’s doubleheader at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Kirkwood has a series-leading nine wins this season and can tie Greg Moore’s season mark of 10 set in 1995. In Kirkwood’s favor is the fact he’s never lost a race at Mid-Ohio. A championship is worth a scholarship for three INDYCAR races in 2022, including the Indianapolis 500.