Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin led all of two laps in the two NTT INDYCAR SERIES races comprising the recent Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend at Iowa Speedway, but that doesn’t reflect the strength of his performance. Far from it, especially when it means being best in class.
That’s best in the non-Newgarden class.
McLaughlin was one of 27 series drivers who couldn’t match Josef Newgarden in the weekend doubleheader, yet he was the closest. McLaughlin shadowed his teammate throughout the second half of the first race, Saturday’s Hy-Vee Homefront 250 presented by Instacart, then was often only a tick or two behind him in the Sunday show, the Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade.
How’s this for proof? McLaughlin ran in the second position for 350 of the weekend’s 500 laps – that’s 70 percent. He dogged double winner Newgarden for 105 of the final 106 laps Saturday and then for another 122 laps Sunday.
That’s the definition of second-best.
And, it’s part of McLaughlin’s trend. While the driver of Team Penske’s No. 3 Chevrolet has yet to win an oval race in this series, he has eight top-six finishes in 13 starts, including three second-place finishes. Two of those runner-up finishes came at Texas Motor Speedway. He also scored a pair of third-place finishes in 2022, at Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway.
Seemingly, his day is coming on the roundies.
“I’m learning every lap around these ovals,” said McLaughlin, who credited Newgarden for the time he took to review each other’s in-car cameras from a 2022 race at Iowa Speedway. “What I learned this weekend was huge. I can’t wait to come back here in the future.”
McLaughlin said Newgarden’s domination of the Iowa weekend forced his crew to consider other alternatives in the Sunday race as they weren’t going to beat their teammate in a head-to-head fight. After pitting with Newgarden on the first two stops, McLaughlin’s group opted to pit a lap earlier on the third stop, at Lap 147, and then came to pit road for new tires on Lap 163 under the caution for rookie Sting Ray Robb’s wheel coming off in Turn 3.
Nothing seemed to help McLaughlin and if anything, the decisions dropped him deeper in the field. At one point after the Lap 163 stop, he was 10th. By the time things cycled through following his final stop at Lap 197 – he made that one a lap later than Newgarden did – he was fourth.
That, effectively, is where McLaughlin finished, though he lost a position in the three-lap final shootout.
“I would have loved to have joined my teammates on the podium, but we tried something different, and it didn’t quite work,” he said. “By the end, I had run out of tools. I was fully stiff on my front bar, I was fully soft on my rear bar, and I was all the way to the right on my weight jacker, really. I had zero tools left. I was just driving this thing.”
What McLaughlin found, however, was comfort running in the high groove, which is where less speed is scrubbed. That’s also where the excess tire rubber rests, and that’s dangerous, but McLaughlin found the balance. He plans to keep that confidence in a place where he can retrieve it next time.
That’s what he’ll have to do to be more than second-best.
“I’m so confident around the top now,” he said. “I know when to find it, know when to go there. That’s what I really struggled with last year on the short ovals, getting up high, trusting the car, trusting what it’s going to do.
“I’m super excited for the next short oval. I hope there’s more coming on the calendar, which I hear there is. Yeah, I owe a lot to Josef; he helped me a lot. I still have a long way to go obviously to try to beat him, but I certainly think the promise is there to do it, and I think he knows that, too.”
Next up on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule is the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, a street race in Nashville at noon ET Sunday, Aug. 6 (NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).