David Malukas

Last month’s season debut at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca went well enough for David Malukas to imagine his time with Meyer Shank Racing is going to be special.

So far, it is. Saturday, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver who missed the season’s first seven races due to a left hand/wrist injury earned a top-three starting position for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2025 Civic Hybrid.

Malukas was beyond excited after climbing from the No. 66 AutoNation/Arctic Wolf Honda with a career-tying third-place qualifying effort.

“As soon as we had (qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey), I knew,” he told NBC on pit lane at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “It was Fast 12 (in qualifying), and I thought, ‘Man, I think this is going to be really good.’”

Meyer Shank Racing has done special things in its relatively short time as a full-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES team. Top of the list is winning the 2021 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge with Helio Castroneves, and the team based in Pataskala, Ohio, has produced several strong runs this season with Felix Rosenqvist.

Malukas said he would have finished the recent Laguna Seca race better than 16th if he and those around him would have raced like it was any other weekend.

“Going into Laguna there was a lot of overthinking, a lot of thoughts,” he said. “How’s the hand going to do? New team, new everything.”

There are no such worries this weekend.

“The hand has built up enough strength, and I was able to wear it in at Laguna,” Malukas said. “Now, it’s all ready to go.

“It’s incredible … the chemistry and everything (MSR) set up for me. They’ve given me the environment to really reach my (maximum) potential here.”

This will be Malukas’ 36th career start, and this qualifying effort tied a career best (he qualified third last year at World Wide Technology Raceway, an oval track). His best starting position on a non-oval was a fifth last year on the Nashville street circuit.

The 22-year-old Chicago native will seek his first top-five finish on a road course or street circuit. His best result on one of these types of tracks was a sixth-place finish last year at Mid-Ohio for Dale Coyne Racing with HMD.

Rosenqvist Has Mixed Mid-Ohio Memories

Malukas’ teammate has a complicated relationship with the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

This is the track where Rosenqvist got his first INDYCAR SERIES test with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2016. It’s also where in 2019 he scored his first podium finish in thrilling finish with then-teammate Scott Dixon, a separation of just .0934 of a second, the second-closest margin between the top two finishers in the track’s 40-year history.

“Lots of good memories,” the Swedish driver said.

However, Rosenqvist has found the track challenging in recent trips, with finishes outside the top 20 in each of the last four years. Last year he had first-lap contact with countryman Marcus Ericsson and finished a lap off the winner’s pace in 25th position.

Rosenqvist, the driver of the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, missed transferring out of the first qualifying group by one position, earning him the 13th starting spot. However, Rosenqvist will be one of three drivers starting six positions farther back in the 27-car field following a recent unapproved engine change.

The cars of Pietro Fittipaldi (No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and Marcus Armstrong (No. 11 Root Insurance Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) also will incur the six-grid penalty for the same reason.

Lundgaard Confident on Repaved Tracks

This 13-turn, 2.258-mile circuit underwent a repave last fall, joining Road America and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca as tracks on the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule that have received a completely new surface. Iowa Speedway has had a partial repave since last year’s series race.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Christian Lundgaard boasts an innate level of confidence on repaved surfaces. At Road America last year, Lundgaard qualified and finished seventh. In the 2023 season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Lundgaard qualified third and finished sixth.

“We’ve been successful at the newly paved tracks the past few years, so I think there are good things to come for the No. 45 Hy-Vee team,” he said.

On the older surface at Mid-Ohio last year, Lundgaard narrowly missed a podium finish with a fourth-place result after qualifying fifth.

Lundgaard, who earlier in the week was confirmed to join Arrow McLaren next season, qualified 10th for Sunday’s race.

Odds and Ends

  • Saturday’s qualifying session produced the closest margin of top-two drivers ever in the Firestone Fast Six sessions that date to 2005. The separation between Alex Palou (No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) was .0024 of a second.
  • This is shaping up to be the most competitive qualifying year in series history. Three of the closest 1-2 results in NTT P1 Award qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six era have come this season. The separation at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach was .0039 of a second while the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding was .0058 of a second.
  • Think the NTT INDYCAR SERIES isn’t competitive? Dixon, Will Power and Josef Newgarden, who have combined for 115 career poles, qualified 14th, 16th and 18th, respectively, in the second first-round qualifying session.
  • Herta had an off-track excursion in Saturday’s pre-qualifying practice, driving into the tire barrier in Turn 12 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Global with Curb-Agajanian.
  • Newgarden had a hairy moment in the practice session, making a last-second move in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet to the right to avoid hitting the car of rookie Kyffin Simpson, whose No. 4 Journie Rewards Chip Ganassi Racing Honda spun and rolled to the middle of the track.