By David Morgan, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – As they say, it’s never over until it’s over.
Scott McLaughlin dominated at Texas Motor Speedway, leading 186 laps and looked to be in the catbird seat on the last lap of Sunday’s XPEL 375. However, his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden had other plans, passing him on the last lap to steal the win.
Biding his time behind McLaughlin over the course of the closing laps, Newgarden saw his chance when the New Zealander caught lapped traffic, powering around McLaughlin through Turn 3 and 4 and beating him back to the line by .0669 seconds to take the victory – his second on the 1.5-mile track.
McLaughlin noted that after the checkered flag dropped, he had already replayed that last lap in his head a number of times, explaining that he would take it as a learning experience into the future.
“I knew there were going to be dramas in three and four,” McLaughlin said. “I struggled with my turns at three and four. I guess I wasn’t prepared to take the risk on the outside at 3-4, which looking back at it I should have. My teammate Josef, obviously Josef chose to. Once he was on the outside of me, I can’t do anything.
“Yeah, look, I’m gutted. I’ll reevaluate everything over the next few days. But it’s funny, like last year I was fist pumping and jumping out of the car finishing second. I’m like today, It sucks. That’s how it is. That’s how we’re growing. I’ll learn from this, get better.”
Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Ericsson broke up the Team Penske party up front, finishing third ahead of Will Power in fourth, with Scott Dixon rounding out the top-five finishers.
Seven-time NASCAR champion and seven-time Texas winner Jimmie Johnson scored his best finish yet in his stint in the NTT IndyCar Series, bringing home a sixth-place result. Defending series champion Alex Palou finished the day in seventh, followed by Simon Pagenaud in eighth.
Santino Ferrucci put in a herculean effort to pilot the No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry to ninth while driving in relief of Jack Harvey. Bringing up the tail end of the top-10 was Rinus VeeKay.
The 248-lap race was slowed four times under caution, three of which were for on-track incidents.
Just 12 laps into the event, Alexander Rossi brought out the first caution of the day when his No. 27 Andretti Autosport machine slowed on track due to mechanical issues. Rossi limped the car back to pit road, with the team working to diagnose the problem before ultimately deciding the issues were terminal.
“It was something electrical, so we were losing battery voltage really from the start of the race,” Rossi said. “It was cutting power at both ends of the track and it got exponentially worse until the battery just died. So, here we are.
Rossi wasn’t the only Andretti driver to have mechanical problems, as Romain Grosjean also retired early with engine woes, bringing his car to pit road on lap 103 before his day was also done early.
The first on-track incident came on lap 99 when Devlin DeFrancesco washed up the track in Turn 1, making contact with Takuma Sato and sending him into the outside wall. Sato would finish the race in 20th place, 108 laps down.
Kyle Kirkwood was the next driver to run into problems on the treacherous Texas surface, finding himself in no-man’s land in the high lane in Turn 4 while attempting to navigate around DeFrancesco in traffic. Kirkwood would wind up losing control in the PJ1 stained portion of the track and sending him spinning and making hard contact with the outside wall.
Prior to the crash, the rookie had moved his No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing into the top-10 from his 23rd place starting position and had led five laps early on in the race.
“We were running a phenomenal race. We were starting really far back and unfortunately there at the end I got caught out in the PJ1,” Kirkwood said. “What happened there was once I got into the PJ1, I was good at first, right? So, I’m around the outside of Devlin and he wiggled a little bit and came up on me and pushed me just too far into the PJ1, into that resin, and the car let go. Once I caught it, but the second there was no catching it.”
While DeFrancesco found himself involved in the two prior on-track incidents, his aggressive driving would wind up biting him, Graham Rahal, and Helio Castroneves on lap 129.
As the three drivers charged into Turn 3, DeFrancesco attempted to make it three-wide, with the rookie on the bottom, Rahal in the middle, and Castroneves up top. DeFrancesco washed up the track into Rahal, which in turn sent him into Castroneves. All three would make heavy contact with the outside wall.
“Just tight confines,” Rahal said. “As I said to Devlin, I think he’s got a bright future, but obviously he punted Takuma earlier in the race and you’ve got to learn from these mistakes. Like I said, it’s tight in there, but you realize when you’ve got a right front to a left rear that you’ve got to bail out. In particular at speeds like this.”
“What happened was unnecessary,” Castroneves added. “It’s still halfway in the race, 100 laps to go. I know everybody is trying to make space, but it’s a little late on that call. I mean, c’mon, you known three (wide) is not going to happen. If it was 50 laps or 10 laps to go, I would understand, but it’s frustrating.
“It’s a shame that it happened. Not happy obviously, but we move on to the next one in Long Beach.”
The NTT IndyCar Series has the next three weeks off before heading out West for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, which is scheduled for 3:00 pm ET on NBC.