McLaughlin retains championship hopes with dominant IndyCar victory at Portland

Faced with a long shot but not out of the picture, Scott McLaughlin kept his 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship hopes alive with a dominant win in the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway on Sunday, September 4.

The 29-year-old McLaughlin from Hamilton, New Zealand, commenced his dominant weekend by qualifying on pole position on Saturday. During the main event on Sunday, he led a race-high 104 of the 110-scheduled laps and prevailed during a restart with 22 laps remaining to fend off teammate Will Power and Scott Dixon to capture the third IndyCar career victory of his career and of this season. The victory decreased McLaughlin’s deficit to teammate and points leader Will Power from 54 to 41 as he will be one of five competitors entering next weekend’s season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with a mathematical opportunity to contend for the title.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Scott McLaughlin claimed his third pole position of the season after posting a pole-winning lap at 121.412 mph in 58.2349 seconds. Teammate Josef Newgarden initially posted the second-best qualifying lap at 121.249 mph in 58.3129 seconds, but he dropped six spots on the starting grid to eighth for an unapproved engine change stemming from the previous IndyCar event at World Wide Technology Raceway. As a result, teammate and points leader Will Power started on the front row alongside McLaughlin after posting his best qualifying lap at 121.016 mph in 58.4482 seconds.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, McLaughlin muscled ahead with an early advantage through the first three turns while rookie Christian Lundgaard made a move to overtake Will Power for the runner-up spot. As the field proceeded through the twists and turns around Portland for a full lap and while Romain Grosjean went off the track, McLaughlin led the first lap ahead of Lundgaard, Power, Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou.

Through the first five scheduled laps, McLaughlin was leading by more than two seconds over Lundgaard followed by Power, O’Ward and Palou while David Malukas, Felix Rosenqvist, Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Josef Newgarden was back in 11th ahead of Rinus VeeKay, rookie Callum Ilott, Scott Dixon and rookie Kyle Kirkwood. Jack Harvey was in 16th followed by Conor Daly, Helio Castroneves, Marcus Ericsson and rookie Devlin DeFrancesco while Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, Romain Grosjean, Dalton Kellett and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the 25-car field.

Five laps later and 10 laps into the event, McLaughlin continued to lead by three seconds over Lundgaard while Power, O’Ward and Palou retained their spots in the top five. By then, Simon Pagenaud pitted for a new set of alternate Firestone tires to his No. 60 SiriusXM Dallara-Honda. Another two laps later, Grosjean pitted for alternate tires to his No. 28 DHL Dallara-Honda.

By Lap 15, names like Dixon, Kirkwood, Jack Harvey, Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Jimmie Johnson pitted for alternate tires as the cycle of tire strategies proceeded. During the following lap, Palou and VeeKay also pitted followed by David Malukas, Colton Herta, Rosenqvist, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly.

At the Lap 20 mark, McLaughlin remained as the leader by more than three seconds over Lundgaard followed by Graham Rahal, Ilott and Ericsson. By then, O’Ward pitted his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Dallara-Chevrolet under green. Another lap later, McLaughlin surrendered the lead to pit his No. 3 Freightliner Dallara-Chevrolet.

Once the remaining competitors who had yet to pit pitted, among which included Lundgaard, Rahal and Ilott, McLaughlin cycled his way back to the lead on Lap 24. By then, Ericsson was in second while Power, Lundgaard and O’Ward were in the top five. Palou carved his No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Dallara-Honda to sixth followed by Newgarden, Rahal, Herta, Rossi and Ilott, who was stalling Scott Dixon and VeeKay while running in the final top-10 spot.

Through the first 35 scheduled laps, McLaughlin was leading by more than eight seconds over teammate Power followed by Lundgaard, O’Ward and Palou while Newgarden, Rahal, Herta, Rossi and Dixon were in the top 10. By then, Ericsson pitted his No. 8 PNC Bank Dallara-Honda three laps earlier for alternative tires. Meanwhile, Grosjean, who was in 22nd, was given a penalty for shorcutting the course.

Ten laps later, McLaughlin stabilized his advantage to more than six seconds over teammate Power. While Lundgaard and O’Ward were in third and fourth, Newgarden navigated his No. 2 Hitachi Dallara-Chevrolet into the top five as he was in fifth followed by Rahal, Herta, Rossi, Dixon and VeeKay. By then, Palou, who was initially battling for sixth with Rahal, pitted along with Pagenaud, Grosjean, Rosenqvist, Jack Harvey and Kirkwood. Newgarden would pit during Laps 46 along with Dixon, Castroneves, Jimmie Johnson, Lundgaard and VeeKay.

Nearing the Lap 50 mark, McLaughlin surrendered the lead to pit for a second time followed by O’Ward while Rahal emerged with the lead. By then, Herta, Malukas, Conor Daly and David Malukas also pitted. Once Lap 50 struck, McLaughlin cycled his way back to the lead after Rahal pitted his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara-Honda under green.

At the halfway mark on Lap 55, McLaughlin was the leader by six seconds over teammate Power followed by O’Ward and a tight battle for fourth place between Newgarden and Lundgaard. Rahal was in sixth ahead of Rossi, Dixon and Herta while VeeKay battled and overtook Palou for 10th place. Meanwhile, Ericsson and DeFrancesco made a pit stop under green along with Sato.

With 40 laps remaining, McLaughlin retained the lead by four seconds over teammate Power, who had O’Ward closing in in a bid for the runner-up spot as Power was also catching the lapped No. 48 Carvana Dallara-Honda driven by Jimmie Johnson. Newgarden remained in fourth as he started to catch teammate Power and O’Ward while Lundgaard, Rahal, Rossi, Dixon, Herta and VeeKay occupied the top 10. Behind, Palou retained 11th ahead of Callum Ilott while Kirkwood, Rosenqvist and Malukas were in the top 15.

Two laps later, Conor Daly was the first retiree of the event after his No. 20 BitNile Dallara-Chevrolet caught on fire while trying to exit his pit stall upon a completed service.

Another five laps later and with 32 laps remaining, McLaughlin stabilized his advantage to more than three seconds over teammate Power, who was able to pull away from O’Ward and Newgarden with no lapped traffic interfering in his charge towards teammate McLaughlin. By then, names like Rossi, Lundgaard, Dixon, VeeKay, Palou, Kirkwood, Jack Harvey and Castroneves pitted. During the pit stops, Lundgaard stalled his No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara-Honda in his pit lane.

During the following lap, McLaughlin led teammates Power and Newgarden along with O’Ward, Rahal, Herta, Ilott and Malukas to pit road for service. Once the pit stops were complete with less than 30 laps remaining, McLaughlin, who despite endured a slow pit stop while trying to navigate his way around Rosenqvist, was back ahead by a second over teammate Power while third-place O’Ward trailed by two seconds. Ericsson, who has yet to pit, was in fourth while Newgarden was mired in fifth.

Then with 27 laps remaining, the first caution of the event flew when VeeKay turned to the left and sent Jimmie Johnson into the outside wall in Turn 1 as Johnson’s long afternoon came to an end with a wrecked No. 48 Honda.

Down to the final 22 laps of the event, the race restarted under green as McLaughlin retained the lead. Entering the first turn, O’Ward made a bold move beneath Power as both made contact, but Power fended off O’Ward to remain in second as the field jumbled up through the first three turns. In the midst of the scramble, Dixon moved his No. 9 PNC Bank Dallara-Honda to fourth place after overtaking both Newgarden and Rossi.

A lap later, O’Ward, who continued with minimal damage to his No. 5 Chevrolet, was penalized and forced to surrender third place to Dixon for blocking Dixon while making his move and eventual contact with Power during the restart.

With less than 20 laps remaining, McLaughlin was the leader by less than two seconds over teammate Power while third-place Dixon trailed by nearly three seconds. O’Ward and Rahal were in the top five while Herta, Rossi and Lundgaard overtook Newgarden, who was on the black Firestone tires, for spots in the top 10.

Shortly after, Lundgaard’s strong run was spoiled after he got loose and ran into a sponsor signage in Turn 1, which remained lodged in front of his car as he plummeted below the leaderboard and went a full lap with the barrier before pitting.

With 10 laps remaining, McLaughlin continued to lead by more than a second over teammate Power and more than two seconds over Dixon, all of whom broke away from the field led by fourth-place O’Ward, who trailed by more than seven seconds. Rahal was in fifth while Herta, Rossi, Newgarden, Ilott and Rosenqvist, who overtook Palou, were in the top 10.

Down to the final five laps of the event, the top-three competitors led by McLaughlin followed by teammate Power and Dixon were nine seconds ahead of fourth-place O’Ward, who was starting to be intimidated by Rahal for fourth place while Andretti Autosport teammates Herta and Rossi battled for sixth in front of Newgarden.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, McLaughlin remained as the leader by more than a second over teammate Power, who had Dixon closing in as he made a final bid for the runner-up spot. With Power unable to close the gap for a final lap through the circuit, McLaughlin was able to navigate his way back to the frontstretch and claim his third checkered flag of the 2022 season.

With the victory, McLaughlin, who made his inaugural presence in the IndyCar circuit less than two years ago, notched his third career victory in the IndyCar Series along with his third of the season as he added Portland with the Streets of St. Petersburg and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to his race-winning resume in IndyCars. He also recorded the ninth victory of the season for Team Penske and the 11th for Chevrolet, which is within striking distance of sealing the manufacturer title over Honda.

The Portland victory also kept McLaughlin’s championship hopes of this season alive as he now trails teammate Power by 41 points after jumping from sixth to fifth in the standings.

“I don’t think the car felt really good in that first stint,” McLaughlin said on NBC. “As the race went on, it got a little bit worse.[I] Just had to really concentrate on where I wanted the strengths in the car and work with those, and then the weaknesses are just trying to make the best of them. The Freightliner Chevy, all weekend, has been fast. It’s been right there where we needed it and the team, the Thristy Threes [pit crew], got the job done in the pits. I’m really proud of them. We did exactly what we needed to do this weekend, and that was win and get max points and keep ourselves in the [championship] fight. Yeah, we’re in a long shot. I don’t care, but we’re a shot. I’m looking forward to it.”

Teammate Power, who came into Portland with a three-point advantage in the championship standings, held off Dixon to finish in the runner-up spot and leaves Portland with a 20-point lead in the standings over both teammate Newgarden and Dixon. Power will only need to finish in the top three next weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to clinch his second IndyCar championship. Ericsson, who salvaged an 11th-place run at Portland, trails Power by 39 points while McLaughlin trails by 41, all of whom remain mathematically eligible to contend for the 2022 IndyCar title.

“The red [tires] was a lot better for us,” Power said. “The black [tires] just never really came on. [I] Never even really got a good balance with it. It was a tough decision because those reds had a lot of laps on them, but I still feel like we would’ve been quicker over the stint. It was the right move. [It] Would’ve been real tough on those restarts without it. Good call by the guys. Good strategy all day. It’s another day. We just did everything we could. I just want to win this championship for the guys that have been with me for more than a decade. It’s a lot less selfish for me this time around because [the crew] deserve it. I feel their pain over the years of losing so many. I would love to win it for them. [The points lead is] still very tough. Ganassi’s tested [at Laguna Seca]. We’re sin the best position. We got the best shot, so we’ll do everything we can.”

“We got to stop getting these Most Improved [accolade] through races,” Dixon said. “It’s definitely frustrating. Starting 16th with the competition we have now and no real cautions, man, we had to drive through the field. We’re still in the fight. Twenty points back. Tied with Josef [Newgarden] there. It was definitely an interesting race. We tried as hard as possible on that last run, but a huge weekend for PNC Bank. Honda, kudos to them for the super-easy fuel mileage that we had to get, so that was definitely a positive…Anything is possible. We’ve seen it. We’ve won [the championship] on tie-breakers before. We’re in it and we will never give up as a team until it’s over. It’s gonna be an interesting [finale]. Ultimately, if we can be in it, we’re gonna throw everything that we can do.”

O’Ward, who has been eliminated from the title battle, nursed his wounded No. 5 Chevrolet to a fourth-place result ahead of Rahal while Herta, Rossi, Newgarden, Callum Ilott and Felix Rosenqvist finished in the top 10 on the track. Alex Palou was also eliminated from title contention with a 12th-place run as he will not defend his series title.

There were seven lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured one caution for four laps.

Results.

1. Scott McLaughlin, 104 laps led

2. Will Power, two laps led

3. Scott Dixon

4. Pato O’Ward

5. Graham Rahal, two laps led

6. Colton Herta

7. Alexander Rossi

8. Josef Newgarden

9. Callum Ilott, one lap led

10. Felix Rosenqvist

11. Marcus Ericsson

12. Alex Palou

13. Kyle Kirkwood

14. David Malukas

15. Jack Harvey

16. Devlin DeFrancesco

17. Helio Castroneves

18. Takuma Sato

19. Romain Grosjean

20. Rinus VeeKay

21. Christian Lundgaard, one lap led

22. Dalton Kellett, one lap down

23. Simon Pagenaud, 10 laps down

24. Jimmie Johnson – OUT, Contact

25. Conor Daly – OUT, Mechanical

The 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season is set to conclude next weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey and where a champion will be crowned. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, September 11, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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