David Malukas

When David Malukas wasn’t playfully singing Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway, he was freely driving to new heights in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

From the 13th starting position, the 20-year-old rookie driving the No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD raced to within a half-second of the driver who won for the third consecutive year in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline.

It wasn’t just that Malukas scored his best finish in the series, it was the heartwarming way in which he finished second to Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, a two-time series champion.

Fifth at the time of the two-hour rain delay, Malukas’ unsatisfied itch to return to the cockpit was clear. The series’ youngest driver wanted a chance to show what he and his team could do, and the night afforded them 36 final laps to do it.

With 17 laps to go, Malukas passed Pato O’Ward for third place and soon thereafter he cleared the lapped car of Colton Herta. Just then the words from the crew startled him.

“You see him in front?” Malukas remembered hearing them say on the team’s radio. “I said, ‘I just see two Penske (cars).’”

He paused to consider what he had just said.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my god, they’re Penskes,’” he said, blushing.

Malukas didn’t back down from the challenge, gaining time on second-place Scott McLaughlin with each passing lap. With six laps to go, Malukas was within a second of the No. 3 Odyssey Battery Team Penske Chevrolet and was soon closer than that.

Desperate and running out of laps, Malukas tried the outside lane with two laps to go and the bold move helped him pull alongside approaching Turn 1. That he made the pass stick was a testament to the development the Chicago native has made this season.

“He was coming, and I was a little loose,” said McLaughlin, a two-time race winner this season. “I got a bad run off of (Turns) 3-4. I took the inside line, and he went outside. The grip was still there, a hell of a move.”

Malukas only regretted not trying the high lane sooner as the grip was there due to the rain and the ensuing track drying clearing the slippery and dangerous excess rubber that had been there earlier.

“If I would have (tried that) sooner maybe we could have done something on Newgarden,” Malukas said of the driver of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. “But, I mean, overall it’s a win for me, a win for the team. They deserve that so much.”

Malukas was the star of the late going, and he had already won hearts by his mid-race performance of a 1980s song from the English synth pop band Dead or Alive. It was the USA Network broadcast team that caught him proudly singing “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).” Malukas figured he needed to explain himself.

“We had to do massive fuel saving, and it kind of ended up the whole field was just following the leader and the gap was just staying the same,” he said of the 260-lap race around the 1.25-mile oval track. “It was staying the same from behind, it was staying the same in front, and everybody had to hit these fuel targets. It ended up getting dragged out.

“Since we were going in circles the song kind of came in my head ‘Spinning ‘round ‘round, spinning …’ I just started singing and lifting everybody’s spirits. (The crew) said, ‘OK, you could push if you’re bored.’ I was like, ‘I’m trying, but I can’t, so I’d rather save fuel.’”

Malukas said this has been a fun first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, especially on oval tracks. He was the top-finishing rookie in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and finished eighth in Race 2 last month at Iowa Speedway.

“Yeah, honestly every oval we go to I love it more, and I’m having so much fun, having moves,” he said. “It’s such a brain excitement, if I can explain it that way. It’s all because we have a really good car … the team’s very good.”

Malukas is proving to be good, as well.

“Dave’s move on the last lap, credit him,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a phenomenal young kid, and I hope he goes far. The way he’s been coming up through the ranks in the Fast Six (sessions), he’s been great all year. Full credit to him.”

Power Would Have Pitted

Will Power, who finished sixth, didn’t come to pit road with Newgarden and McLaughlin for new tires on Lap 149. He would have if …

“The team didn’t tell the (fuel) number that we would have to get (to complete the race) if we didn’t pit, so if they would have told me what it was, I would have said, ‘No, we should pit,’” he said during the rain delay. “It is what it is.”

Power was fourth when the inclement weather came but lost two positions on the restart when Malukas masterfully set him up using a lapped car as a pick.

The driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet finished sixth but retained the series lead by three points over Newgarden. Two races remain: the Grand Prix of Portland on Sept. 4 at Portland International Raceway and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sept. 11 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Power is trying to win his first series title since 2014.

Rosenqvist on the Move

Felix Rosenqvist finished 16th, but he had the move of the race in the opening two laps. He went from last on the grid – starting 26th – due to a long spin in qualifying to running 13th.

The Swede driving the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet enjoyed it.

“We kind of got lucky that no one was really using the high line and we had a lot of momentum,” he said. “From then on, it was kind of stagnant.”

Odds and Ends

  • Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise Malukas ran so well. He won both Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races at the track last year and finished third in his other series race there in 2019.
  • Malukas entered the weekend a distant second to Christian Lundgaard (No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda of RLL) in the Rookie of the Year standings, but his second-place finish coupled with Lundgaard finishing 19th closed the gap to just 11 points heading to Portland.
  • Malukas wasn’t the only driver from Dale Coyne’s stable performing well. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato led 22 laps and finished fifth in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR for his best result of the year. Sato won the 2019 race at WWTR in a car fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
  • Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing) and rookie Callum Ilott (No. 77 Juncos Racing Chevrolet) incurred in-race penalties, VeeKay for speeding and Ilott for hit pit equipment, which knocked his left-front tire changer down. Ilott’s penalty was a 30-second stop-and-hold on pit road.
  • Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) saw his competitive race come to an end when the car ran out of fuel coming to the pit box. The Andretti Autosport crew struggled to refire the engine.
  • With four laps to go Saturday, Andretti Autosport’s Matthew Brabham grabbed the lead of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race and went on to score his second series victory. Series points leader Linus Lundqvist of HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing led the first 71 of 75 laps and finished second. However, Lundqvist extended his series lead to 108 points with three races to go.
  • Salvador De Alba of Jay Howard Driver Development won Saturday’s Indy Pro 2000 race, his second win of the season.