A dominant win for Scott McLaughlin in the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season opener at St. Petersburg could set the tone for how this season will go for the second-year Team Penske driver, if history is any indicator.
Starting from the pole, McLaughlin led 49 of 100 laps and took the checkered a half-second over defending series champion Alex Palou in his 18th series start after winning Rookie of the Year last season. The three-time Australian V8 Supercar champion won in his first pairing with Team Penske engineer Ben Bretzman, firing the first shot of the season on the road to the championship.
What stands out is McLaughlin’s season-opening win comes after three-straight seasons of champions who won the season-opening event of their championship year. Last season Palou scored his first career win in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on his way to winning twice more before clinching the season title. Scott Dixon won at Texas in 2020 on the way to clinching yet another title. In 2019, McLaughlin’s Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden won at St. Peterburg on the way to his second series championship.
McLaughlin has the odds in his favor going into 2022. He’s got a championship legacy with Penske already. He’s with one of the top teams in the garage with Penske and Chevrolet. He’s got a season under his belt, a season that saw him claim top rookie honors and show some maturity behind the wheel near the end of the season, scoring two top-10s in the last four races while finishing 12th and 11th, respectively, in the last two races.
Primarily a road racer thanks to his years in the V8 Supercars, McLaughlin has posted strong runs on both road courses and ovals before Sunday’s win. His best rookie finish was second at Texas in the third race of the season, followed by an eighth during the second day of the Texas double-header. In the fifth race of the year he finished eighth again at the Indianapolis Grand Prix. A fourth at Gateway was followed by a ninth-place finish at the Grand Prix of Portland were all highlights of a season that would be considered as modest by most standards.
Seeing how dominant McLaughlin and his No. 3 team performed on Sunday shows that they’re past being modest and ready to show the aggression needed to perform like he did during his Supercar career. As the youngest and newest member of the Penske IndyCar group, McLaughlin knows he needs to perform to match the championship pedigree of his teammates, Newgarden and Will Power. If Sunday’s performance is any indicator in that case, he won’t have to wait long to deliver another Team Penske championship trophy.