McLaughlin saves season with dominant drive in Alabama

On Wednesday, Scott McLaughlin learned he lost his second-place finish in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, for push-to-pass violations by Team Penske. As a result, he fell to last in NTT INDYCAR SERIES points.

“We took the penalty, as we said at the start of the week,” he said. “It was black and white. You move on.”

Fast-forward to Sunday, McLaughlin dominated the field to win in Alabama.

He led a race high of 59 laps to win the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix for the second year in a row, and the fifth time in his career. He built up a large enough gap to pit on Lap 75 and exit pit road ahead of Alex Palou. A caution with five laps to go gave Palou and the field another chance, but nobody had the goods to overtake McLaughlin on the final restart with two laps to go.

“We did what we thought we could do,” he said. “It was execution. Like, probably one of the most I guess you could say so proud of the execution, the way that the team, particularly on the three cars, stuck together. We just kind of kept executing. That’s our word for the rest of the year. Keep knocking ’em out. Points are points. Points are imaginary things. You just, like, get them. It’s a reward at the end of the race.

“It’s about executing. The higher you finish, the more points you get. Ultimately it’s a bonus at the end of the season. We’re here to just take it race by race and see what happens towards the end.”

Teammate, Will Power, who lost 10 points in Wednesday’s penalty announcement, brought his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet home to a runner-up finish. INDYCAR rookie, Linus Lundqvist, passed Palou for third on Lap 79. For a moment, he thought he could pass Power in Turn 5. To no avail.

“I think these guys were obviously the pace of the field today,” he said. “I was able to hold off fairly easily from Palou. I think he still had some fuel saving or old tires.”

Felix Rosenqvist and Palou rounded out the top-five.

Christian Lundgaard, Santino Ferrucci, Colton Herta, Marcus Armstrong and Kyle Kirkwood rounded out the top-10.

Race summary

McLaughlin led the field to green at 1:40 p.m. ET. A three-car incident in Turn 1 set the tone for the day. For which Rinus VeeKay served a pass-through penalty, for avoidable contact. I counted at least six times one car touched another, over the course of 90 laps.

McLaughlin pitted from the lead on Lap 28. Palou followed suite, two laps later. Followed by Rosenqvist on Lap 31 and Ferrucci on Lap 36. McLaughlin cycled back to the lead on Lap 37.

Alexander Rossi lost a wheel exiting pit road on Lap 44. Which brought out a caution. Running on a three-stop strategy, Palou stayed out during the caution to retake the lead. When Sting Ray Robb plowed into the Turn 1 tire barrier on Lap 55, Ferrucci stayed out to inherit the lead. It was a lucky break for McLaughlin, who was “probably on the backfoot” when the caution flew.

“That was a way of us getting back to the point where these other guys had to take the fuel and hope they made the fuel,” he said.

After Ferrucci pitted on Lap 66 and Lundqvist on Lap 70, McLaughlin built a roughly 30-second gap to Palou. When he pitted on Lap 75, he exited ahead of Palou.

Aside from Christian Rasmussen’s stall in Turn 14 with five laps to go, it was McLaughlin’s race to lose.

What else happened

File under “Well that happened.”

On Lap 53, a mannequin named Georgina fell off the bridge before the entry to Turn 7 and partially onto the track. Which Luca Ghiotto clipped. In a sports league where fans tape up beer cans to make a beer tower on Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, nothing compares to this. Hell, I once saw a bat fly around the media center at Bristol Motor Speedway, and that was less bizarre than any of this.

Nuts and bolts

The race lasted one hour, 56 minutes and 45 seconds, at an average speed of 106.369 mph. There were 10 lead changes among six different drivers and four cautions for 15 laps.

Herta leaves Barber Motorsports Park as the points leader.

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

Tucker White
Tucker White
I've followed NASCAR for well over 20 years of my life, both as a fan and now as a member of the media. As of 2024, I'm on my ninth season as a traveling NASCAR beat writer. For all its flaws and dumb moments, NASCAR at its best produces some of the best action you'll ever see in the sport of auto racing. Case in point: Kyle Larson's threading the needle pass at Darlington Raceway on May 9, 2021. On used-up tires, racing on a worn surface and an aero package that put his car on the razor's edge of control, Larson demonstrated why he's a generational talent. Those are the stories I want to capture and break down. In addition to NASCAR, I also follow IndyCar and Formula 1. As a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee, I'm a diehard Tennessee Volunteers fan (especially in regards to Tennessee football). If covering NASCAR doesn't kill me, down the road, watching Tennessee football will. I'm also a diehard fan of the Atlanta Braves, and I lived long enough to see them win a World Series for the first time since 1995 (when I was just a year old). I've also sworn my fan allegiance to the Nashville Predators, though that's not paid out as much as the Braves. Furthermore, as a massive sports dork, I follow the NFL on a weekly basis. Though it's more out of an obligation than genuine passion (for sports dorks, following the NFL is basically an unwritten rule). Outside of sports, I'm a major cinema buff and a weeb. My favorite film is "Blazing Saddles" and my favorite anime is "Black Lagoon."

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