By Jerry Jordan, Editor
FORT WORTH – Most drivers aren’t usually happy if they don’t win but INDYCAR racer and rookie of the year contender, Scott McLaughlin, was thrilled with his runner-up position at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday – partly because he was beaten by one of his “all-time heroes” and partly because he finished second in his first race on an oval track.
“I’ve never been this bloody happy with second. I’m really stoked,” McLaughlin said. “Everyone at PPG and Chevy, thank you. I just didn’t have enough for Scott (Dixon) at the end. It was bloody cool battling with one of my all-time heroes. Two Kiwis (New Zealanders) 1 and 2, fantastic.”
Dixon dominated the race but McLaughlin raced his way to the front from a 15th place starting position. The Team Penske driver said he used varying strategies and had a really fast car, which is something he hopes pays off in the second TMS race. The 1-2 finish for two New Zealanders was a first and running with Dixon had McLaughlin chatting like a fanboy for a moment after the race.
“I’ve been watching Scott since really 2001 when he first joined PacWest, around that time,” McLaughlin said. “Then obviously when he went to Ganassi and won the championship in 2003. ’08, the Indy 500. A big fan, a massive fan. So, to follow him and race him towards the end, have genuine pace for him, was pretty cool. I said to the guys in the caution period, This is pretty cool, isn’t it? I think they were trying to calm me down a little bit. It was cool. Probably too happy finishing second. Definitely, you won’t get me like this ever again. I’m sure hopefully we can go one better next time.”
Heading into the first of two races this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, McLaughlin spent a lot of time on the simulator and participated in an open test session, which he admitted helped him get acclimated to the 1.5-mile TMS oval.
“I’m just so proud,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve worked really hard behind the scenes to make it feel good, and we got some good strategy there from my team. They put me in a position; I’m just happy to bring it home for them.
“The testing really paid off. Just getting familiar and getting a feeling for everything. My engineers got me to the point where I am comfortable. I’m really proud of everyone on this PPG Chevy. We had a really great strategy. I can hardly wait until tomorrow! (Sunday at 4 p.m.).”
Despite the runner-up position, McLaughlin admitted he wasn’t 100 percent comfortable early in the race in his first oval outing.
“Physically I felt all right. Wasn’t too bad,” he said. “Probably mentally it’s quite a draining thing, trying to always concentrate on what is going to happen in front of you in traffic, listening to your spotter. A lot of things going on. I certainly felt more comfortable as the race went on. Happy I did all the laps and ended in a good spot.”
One of the biggest issues McLaughlin faced at TMS was hitting pit road because of the speeds coming off Turn 4. With only a street course (Grand Prix of St. Petersburg) and the road course race at Barber Motorsports Park under his belt, getting on and off pit road has had a different feel. So, when he hit pit road at TMS for the first time on old tires he said he wasn’t quite ready for the sensation.
“Look, the first pit stop actually caught me by surprise, old tires under caution,” McLaughlin said. “Had a lot of like marbles and stuff pick up on the tire. I came in there quite loose. Was very nervous on entry into pit lane.
“Yeah, it’s surprising. It’s very nerve-wracking pitting under green, sort of going through three and four on the apron. Very low grip. You really have to wheel it through there. I was happy we weren’t too far away pace-wise. Very different, green flags, caution stops as well. Yeah, it’s very cool when you do a big burnout after the pit stop. That’s a cool part.”
Still, he said what he learned during the race Saturday would be a big help for Sunday.
“I think we can learn some things to make the race car better in traffic. Just having a very strong result right now, it will really move us up in the championship, which I think that’s where we’re starting tomorrow based on championship points. So we should be around Top 5. Yeah, it should make our race, just the traffic running, it makes such a big difference if you’re behind three cars or you’re behind 10 cars. Yeah, just looking forward to tomorrow. Today was, like I said, a good step. Tomorrow we want to go that much better.”
McLaughlin will start the XPEL 375 from the inside of Row 4 in seventh on Sunday – a considerably better position than where he began the Genesys 300.