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McLaughlin: Pole “a nice little reward” after “tough week”

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Scott McLaughlin has said winning his sixth career NTT P1 Award, meaning he will lead the field to green at Barber Motorsports Park, is “a nice little reward” following a week of scrutiny for Team Penske.

It was announced on Wednesday that both third-place finisher McLaughlin and race-winning teammate Josef Newgarden had been disqualified from the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for a push-to-pass violation relating to its illegal use on race restarts. The infraction was only discovered six weeks later during Sunday’s warm-up in Long Beach. 

The drivers have since faced a torrent of questions and accusations, leading to a tough week of curtailed sleep and hindered preparations, as admitted by Josef Newgarden in a special press conference on Friday.

“It obviously means a lot,” McLaughlin said of his pole position. “Really proud for Good Ranchers to come back here with another fast car. Ultimately proud for Team Penske. One-two… it’s quite tough to come by in any series, let alone IndyCar. Obviously after the week we’ve all had, it’s a nice little reward.”

McLaughlin had finished third in St. Pete and, owing to a mechanical retirement six weeks later in Long Beach, entered the Barber weekend - the third points-paying round of the season - bottom of the championship standings on only five points. This was a blow for one of the pre-season favourites and it leaves him with an uphill climb.

“Look, just take it as it comes,” he said when asked by DIVEBOMB whether there is any added motivation. “Ultimately we’re always out there to win. It’s been a tough week but it is what it is. We’ve moved forward. 

“We’ll just keep starting our championship, I guess comeback we would like to say, and do the best we can. The best thing we can do is continue getting poles and hope to get a win, but we know it’s going to be hard.”

McLaughlin described his No.3 Penske Chevrolet as “just phenomenal” and admitted the team have “hardly changed it” since first getting on track for practice on Friday. This helped to inspire the confidence to take pole position in his first Fast Six appearance of the season, ahead of teammate Will Power.

“The last couple races we just probably haven’t nailed qualifying,” McLaughlin, who finished inside the top two with seven of his last eight qualifying runs in 2023, told DIVEBOMB. “Circumstances and mistakes by me... we’ve been through to Q2, just missed the Fast Six. It’s nice to nail and get our first Fast Six of the year and put it on pole.”

McLaughlin made the Fast Six seven times across 12 road and street course races in 2023 - four more than Newgarden and six more than the NTT IndyCar Series’ all-time pole position leader Power. 

“Ultimately it’s so hard to just continually be up the front in the sport,” McLaughlin added. “You’ve got to put everything into it. As Will shows, if you had a little bit of adversity or whatever it is, it’s very hard to keep track, keep focused. 

“But we’ve all been working together really well. I think we’re really pushing this team forward, along with Team Chevy. It’s nice to turn up to the racetrack knowing you can have a really good shot at a win or a pole every time.”

McLaughlin pipped Power by 0.0970 seconds late on - the second successive race the driver of the No.12 Penske Chevrolet has been within one-tenth of pole. He missed out by 0.0039s to Felix Rosenqvist in Long Beach, albeit back-to-back second-place finishes mean he has already eclipsed his 2023 tally of one Fast Six appearance.

“Good bounceback for the team,” Power said. “From the moment we rolled off the truck, the thing’s been great - really haven’t changed much at all, felt comfortable the whole time. Just cool to be back in the Fast Six each week. Felt like we should have done it at St. Pete. Enjoying it a lot, fighting for poles. Always sucks to miss out by a little bit.”

Power has not been to Victory Lane since Detroit in 2022 - the sole win of his championship-winning campaign - while McLaughlin is bidding for his first win since Barber last year.

“We’re strong in racing,” Power continued. “So determined to win a race. If I get a sniff of a win - it’s been so long - I’m hanging for that. So starting there gives you a great shot.”

Power was not judged to have illegally used push-to-pass in St. Pete, hence he only received a 10-point deduction - ultimately only a two-point loss given he was promoted to a second-place finish with his podium-sitting teammates disqualified - and monetary fine. All considered, he is enjoying a much smoother start to 2024.

“Last year was tough for me,” Power told DIVEBOMB when asked about his start to the season. “I just wasn’t all there because my wife was sick. The preparation for the start of the season wasn’t good. I was constantly in the back of my mind worried about what might happen, whether I should even keep racing or not. 

“Once you have a kid, do a dangerous sport… if my wife is sick, what if something happens to her, I’m doing this? I was sort of juggling that last year. Just all in right now, as I usually am. Just unfortunate circumstances last year.”


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