Photo: Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

McLaughlin Wins at Barber, Hands Grosjean Heartbreaking Loss

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Sunday’s Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park was shaping up to finally be Romain Grosjean’s day, but it was not to be as Scott McLaughlin took over the lead with 19 laps to go and never looked back, banking his first victory of the season.

McLaughlin and Grosjean were on differing strategies (three-stop vs two-stop), but on lap 64, their paths merged in a repeat of their battle at St. Petersburg. This time without either driver wrecking the other.

Though Grosjean may have won the battle by passing McLaughlin shortly after his final pit stop, but it wasn’t over quite yet as Grosjean had used up his allotment of Push to Pass while trying to keep McLaughlin in his rear-view mirror.

The driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet laid in wait behind Grosjean and when the Frenchman slipped up, he made his move, powering past to take over the lead.

As they say, the rest was history.

In the final run to the finish, it was a Sunday drive for McLaughlin, who crossed the line 1.7854 seconds ahead of Grosjean.

“Feels awesome,” McLaughlin said. “I think we have had the pace. Obviously, St. Pete we were strong, contending for wins, maybe not Texas, but Long Beach we were right there.

“I’m really proud to sort of execute today. Probably the most complete race I’ve ever driven in an INDYCAR, to be honest, from a strategy perspective, picking people off. It was getting pretty tough in the middle when we were making passes, lap traffic, whatnot.

“Ultimately when Grosjean got me out of the pits, didn’t catch me by surprise. Well, he caught me napping. It was a great move by him. To reset, go again, then pass him back with the pace that we had, that’s a proud drive for me personally, but from a team perspective, really proud.”

Grosjean led 57 laps on the day, the most of anyone in the field, but he ends another race wondering what could have been.

“F*** that one hurts,” Grosjean said to his crew over the radio afterwards.

“Gave it 100 percent, but we just got unlucky with that yellow. Michael (Andretti) came and said ‘Don’t get your head down. That was one of the best drives he’d ever seen.’ What do you want to say? It’s just good. I gave it all, but it was good with Scott, congrats to him. He deserved the win.

“Our day will come. Today was like St. Petersburg was for us, we just got unlucky with that yellow. Anyway, on to the next one.”

Will Power made a run at Grosjean in the closing laps for second, but couldn’t quite close the deal, finishing the day in third.

Pato O’Ward closed out Sunday with a fourth-place finish, with Alex Palou rounding out the top-five.

The remainder of the top-10 finishers included Christian Lundgaard posting his best finish of the season in sixth, followed by Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Felix Rosenqvist, and current points leader Marcus Ericsson.

Just one yellow flag flew during the 90-lap race when Sting Ray Robb was stranded in Turn 9 on Lap 39, but the caution was one of the defining moments of the race.

The caution allowed McLaughlin and others employing the three-stop strategy to dive onto pit road, leveling the playing field with Grosjean and others on the two-stop strategy.

Keeping touch with Grosjean, the final pit stop cycle allowed McLaughlin to be on offense for the final stint, while Grosjean was left to unsuccessfully play defense against the hard charging New Zealander down the stretch.

“I call it happy driver strategy,” McLaughlin said. “I was a lot happier doing that.”

On the opposite side of that, Grosjean explained what it was like having to hit a fuel number while still giving it his all in his effort to keep McLaughlin at bay.

“It’s probably the most frustrating type of racing. You know you can go faster, you want to keep the throttle pinned in, but you can’t,” Grosjean said.

“Out of 90 laps, I think I did three laps where I was flat out, that’s it. The rest I had to lift and coast and save fuel. It’s a strategy we decided as a team before the race. We thought we could win with it, but obviously no.”

The field will now turn its attention to Indianapolis and the Month of May. The GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course is next on the schedule on May 13th, followed by the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28th.

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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.