By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Coming into Saturday’s Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, rookie driver Scott McLaughlin had never made an NTT IndyCar Series start on an oval, but he sure didn’t drive like one en route to a runner-up finish.
The three-time V8 Supercars champion and newest member of the Team Penske stable is a part of a star-studded rookie lineup in IndyCar this season, along with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and Formula 1 veteran Romain Grosjean, but McLaughlin is the only one of the three to run the entire season.
After finishes of 14th and 11th to start the season on the road and street courses at Barber and St. Petersburg, McLaughlin was ecstatic to head to Texas and make his first oval start.
“For me it’s the excitement of having never done it before, experiencing what it’s like,” he said ahead of Saturday’s race. “That’s something that is going to be so cool, so refreshing for me. First career start on an oval. Why not do it in the fastest race car of all? It’s a cool thing.”
Starting in 15th after qualifying was rained out, McLaughlin worked his way up the leaderboard, cracking the top-10 just prior to the first caution of the night on lap 55. Once inside the top-10, he wouldn’t relinquish it, only getting better as the night progressed.
After green flag pit stops a bit past the halfway point, McLaughlin was able to cycle up into third place, putting him in a prime position to challenge for a podium finish and possibly the win. Those chances went up even more when he took over the runner-up spot from Pato O’Ward under caution, setting his sights on his fellow countryman and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon for the final run to the finish.
While Dixon had the advantage on the final restart with 26 laps to go, McLaughlin wasn’t going to let him run away with the win, stalking him lap by lap, studying the veteran and looking for a chance to try and get by him to steal the win away.
In the closing laps, McLaughlin was as close to Dixon as he had been all night, but eventually ran out of time, crossing the line 0.2646 seconds in arears.
“I’ve never been this bloody happy with second,” McLaughlin said. “I’m really stoked. 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 1 and 2, fantastic.
“I’m just so proud. 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.”
Despite not being able to best Dixon for the win, McLaughlin added how special it was to be able to put up a strong challenge against his childhood hero.
“I’ve been watching Scott since really 2001 when he first joined PacWest, around that time. 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.”
McLaughlin won’t have to wait long for another opportunity to capture his first IndyCar win, as the series will do it all over again Sunday night at Texas with the running of the XPEL 375 at 5:00 pm Eastern on NBC Sports Network.