Photo: Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment

Scott McLaughlin Goes Back-to-Back at Barber in Penske 1-2 Finish

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Mission accomplished.

Since arriving at Barber Motorsports Park for Sunday’s Children’s of Alabama Grand Prix, Scott McLaughlin has been steadfast in his beliefs that the heavy penalties handed down by INDYCAR to Team Penske earlier this week wouldn’t keep his No. 3 team down and they answered their detractors emphatically with a dominating win to kick off the comeback in earnest.

Starting the weekend with only five points to his name, McLaughlin went out and put the “Meat Wagon” on the pole and rolled right into race day with the determination to see it through to the finish with the No. 3 car at the top of the pylon.

From the drop of the green flag, the “Thirsty 3’s” were on it as McLaughlin set the pace up front, electing to go for the same three-stop strategy that won him the race a year ago.

As the race played out, it was coming down to a battle of those that were in full send mode, like McLaughlin, and those taking the more fuel conscious route, like defending series champion Alex Palou.

Even though McLaughlin had been the man to beat, it looked for a while that the fuel save strategy just might win out, but in the end, McLaughlin was able to secure enough of a gap to Palou to give himself enough leeway to be able to make his last pit stop and come back out on track still in control of the race.

However, it wasn’t quite a Sunday drive to the finish, as the fourth and final caution of the day flew with less than five laps to go, setting up a restart among McLaughlin, his teammate Will Power, and Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Linus Lundqvist.

Neither Power nor Lundqvist were able to eclipse McLaughlin over the course of the final three circuits around the winding road course, as Mclaughlin streaked across the line to bank the victory, 1.319 seconds ahead of Power.

“Thirsty 3’s to the moon!” McLaughlin exclaimed over the team radio on his cool-down lap, taking in the win that has him back in the game heading into the Month of May.

After climbing from his car in Victory Lane, McLaughlin noted that even with all of the noise surrounding his team and Team Penske as a whole this weekend, they knew they had to keep their head down and grinding and did just that.   

“We just had to keep rolling,” McLaughlin said. “We know our job. We know what we needed to do. I’m just super proud of the execution. The Good Ranchers Chevy was so good. A couple of yellows didn’t fall our way, but we just showed our pace. Super proud of everyone.

“We’ll just keep rolling, man. Just execution, execution. That’s our word. We’ll just get going.

“Definitely one of my best drives in terms of execution and just knocking out the laps. Really happy we could advance to the checkered flag there and bring home a W for Team Penske and for Roger.”

McLaughlin added that he wasn’t deterred by the late caution that erased his multi-second lead over Power, setting up the final restart, explaining that the speed he had shown all day gave him confidence that it was still his race to lose.

“I knew our pace. I knew we could control it,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously, you’ve got to make sure you don’t make a mistake with a guy like Will behind you. He’s always going to push hard. I knew we had some pace and we could cover him when we needed to.”

With the win, McLaughlin jumps from 29th in the standings up to ninth place, 42 points back from the lead with three of 17 scheduled races in 2024 now complete.

“Let’s go. Let’s keep going,” McLaughlin remarked about the leap into the top-10 in points.

Power finished the day in second-place for his second podium finish of the season after the re-shuffle following St. Petersburg.

Having not finished worse than sixth through the first three races of the season, he moves within one point of the lead in the points standings. Even with his team having to change engines between morning warm-up and the race, the No. 12 team didn’t miss a beat and was in the mix all day.

“Hard fought 1-2 for Penske,” Power said. “We were certainly fast, but a lot of the strategy played into that and we were able to use our speed to come out in front again…

“We had Chevrolet give us a new engine. The boys did a great job getting that in in such short time. We had a little issue, so we’ll have to take that other engine back and look at it.

“Stoked to have Verizon on the podium again. Man, I’m knocking on the door. It’s going to come. We’ll keep pushing for it.”

Barber was the 100th podium finish for Power, but the first for Lundqvist, who led four times in the middle of green flag pit stops, but held his own among the veterans all day after starting way back in 19th on the treacherous road course.

“Man, it was amazing,” Lundqvist said. “I think for the first time ever I was not on the save fuel strategy. I was not the one being passed, which was nice.

“Obviously, we had a bit of everything in that race for us. We started obviously quite far back, in 19th. In the beginning it was just about basically saving fuel as much as we can, see what we can do later in the race. The team kept telling me to hit your number, you’ll reap the reward at the end. That definitely happened.”

Felix Rosenqvist crossed the line in fourth-place for his best finish of the year, followed by Palou rounding out the top-five after leading 12 laps on his fuel saving strategy. The remainder of the top-10 went to Christian Lundgaard, Santino Ferrucci, Colton Herta, Marcus Armstrong, and Kyle Kirkwood.

Next up for the IndyCar Series will be the Sonsio Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course on May 11 before rolling into the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 26.

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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.