Scott McLaughlin Scores Emotional Maiden IndyCar Win As The Season Opens In St. Pete

Kiwi Scott McLaughlin held off defending IndyCar champion Alex Palou to score his first  IndyCar win in the opening round of the championship at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Sunday. The driver of the number 3 Chevrolet for Roger Penske is no stranger to delivering wins for The Captain, scoring 56 for DJR Team Penske in the Australian V8 Supercars series along with three championships.

“This is unbelievable,” said McLaughlin as he stepped out of the car. “Thank you to Roger Penske and everyone who put their faith in me… DEX Energy for jumping on board and trusting me, and Roger Penske and Tim Cindric giving me the opportunity to come here. I miss my mom and dad dearly and my family… I wish you guys were here.”

McLaughlin dominated all day, leading just short of half the race. He held off defending champion Alex Palou in the final laps, displaying his skill as he battled fuel saving and the lapped car of rookie Devlin Defranchesco who refused to get out of the way. 

“Really struggled in those last couple of laps just to keep my head in and save the fuel and all that stuff,” he said. “But we did it.”

It’s his second season in the IndyCar series, which he joined for a new challenge. He’s struggled on the street courses, though, where his average finish is eleventh.

When asked if he was worried coming in to a street race, he joked: “I was worried about my average so I had to come out and win! I’m just very proud. We put a lot of hard work in.”

After scoring the pole in qualifying, Ben Bretzman, race engineer for McLaughlin’s 3 car, said: “We’ve put a lot of work in, a lot of ‘How are we going to do this together and what do we need to learn together?’ I’m super proud of him. The speed has always been there, it’s how do you extract it? So far so good.” 

Defending champion Alex Palou finished close behind in second, with the margin as close as two tenths in the final laps. Will Power, Colton Herta, and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top five. 

The race was largely decided on pit strategy, with a two-stop strategy significantly quicker on the day. Scott Dixon was the fastest three-stop car, but just couldn’t claw his way out of the deficit any higher than eighth. Jimmie Johnson also saw significant improvements to pace negated by strategy issues. 

Dixon called it “a rough day” and said the team “kind of put ourselves in a hole.” Johnson also said that “strategy didn’t work out in our favor.”

Behind them, Rinus Veekay finished sixth, followed by Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, and Takuma Sato in the top ten. In her debut IndyCar race, AJ Foyt’s touted new driver Tatiana Calderon finished 24th after issues with the car forced her to take four trips down pit road. 

The IndyCar series returns next month on March 20th for an oval race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Owen Johnson