Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

McLaughlin Hoping to Parlay Pole Speed into Indy 500 Victory

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Is 2024 Scott McLaughlin’s year to win the Indianapolis 500?

Making his fourth start in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet has his best starting position yet, rolling off from the pole after setting a record pace in qualifying last weekend.

Joined by his teammates Will Power and Josef Newgarden on the front row, McLaughlin looks to turn his speed from qualifying into speed during Sunday’s race to join them as Indy 500 champions. Newgarden comes into this weekend as the defending champion, with Power the winner in 2018.

McLaughlin explained that since winning the pole, his world has gotten a lot busier, but remains cognizant of the fact that the big prize comes when the checkered flag falls on Sunday.

“It has been a pretty whirlwind week,” McLaughlin said. “Being fastest here for qualifying, obviously it’s the first box you want to tick, but ultimately you want to win on Sunday, but it’s still been a really cool week, and I’ve really enjoyed.

“I’ve really tried to soak it in as much as I can, but at the end of the day the job is this weekend.

“But just really proud to represent Pennzoil, and obviously it’s 40 years since Rick [Mears] won in this race car. It would mean a lot to the team and myself to do that, obviously. It would be a life-changing experience. But ultimately, we need to go through all the process, all the execution to get to that point as 32 other amazing race car drivers out there are going to be chasing us down and working us very hard. Yeah, no doubt about that.

“Just keep my emotions in check, just enjoy the moment and see what happens.”

With all three Team Penske machines starting on the front row, inquisitive minds want to know how the three drivers will handle the start and try to control the race. McLaughlin noted that they haven’t quite nailed down their game plan yet, but would be conferring with each other to make sure they’re all on the same page come Sunday.

“We haven’t had an active discussion about it yet, but at the end of the day I’m sure there will be a sit-down with all three of us before the race and sort of analyze a few things,” McLaughlin said.

“At the same time, I guess everyone knows that when you’re out in front, you’re chewing a lot of gas, so ultimately I think we’ll take turns maybe at doing that or making sure that we keep ourselves in good track position. Ultimately that’s what I’m thinking about.

“But yeah, certainly when you get back to sort of six, seven, eight deep it’s quite definitely, so we need to make sure we’re up in the front.

“Just let it come, let it happen. I haven’t been at the front; starting 14th is best I’ve had. I’m excited to see what it looks like.”

With the plan for the Penske cars still in the works to determine how the three will handle the race, McLaughlin added that there is one credo that all of them know will have to follow to keep team owner Roger Penske happy.

“As long as we don’t take each other out, the boss is happy. That’s the main thing.”

McLaughlin has also been harboring a secret weapon of sorts in former Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, who has come on board as an advisor for McLaughlin this month to help give him an edge for the biggest race of the season.

Pagenaud drove for Team Penske from 2015 to 2021, winning the 2019 running of the Indy 500. Since a crash at Mid-Ohio last July, Pagenaud has been on the sidelines recovering and while there is no doubt Pagenaud would like to be behind the driver’s seat himself, acting as an advisor for the pole sitter may just be the next best thing.

“I asked him to do this like February, January or February, and we’ve been analyzing a lot of things since,” McLaughlin said of bringing Pagenaud into the fold.

“But at the same time, he’s always been a Team Penske member. He’s won the 500 for us, and at the end of the day, we all just want him to be okay.

“So, this is for me an opportunity for me to work with him but also an opportunity for me to help maybe bring him back to the race and get his name back involved. Whether that’s not driving a race car, at least he’s involved, and he gets that feeling of being at the 500 again. I’m sure it’s so hard for him right now. It’s his first 500 he’s missed in a long time. He’s a 500 winner, and he’s at a point in his career where he could easily keep going for many, many years.

“He’s just a nice guy. I’ve always got along with him from Penske, and he’s been a lot of help. Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of things I’ve used this week that have helped, but at the same time, we’ve had great car speed, which has made it a lot easier. But just leaning on him has been nice.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.