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Malukas flying high after strong IndyCar return with Meyer Shank

David Malukas was everything the Meyer Shank Racing team hoped for, and more, after he featured all last weekend in the No. 66 Honda at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

After missing the last four months while recovering from significant damage done to his left wrist and hand during the offseason, expectations were held to a minimum as Malukas made his return to racing, but as he and MSR discovered during the event, doing something big was indeed possible.

“He totally overachieved in my book,” team co-owner Mike Shank told RACER. “He’s not out of the woods totally on his wrist, but in qualifying, he was on pace to be P7 or P8 but had to bail on his final lap and ended up P12, which was still a big, big deal for us. And he was tracking for P8 or P9 right near the end of the race when Pato [O’Ward] ran over his wheel and we got a flat tire. We got that fixed and he fell to last, but even then he passed [Linus] Lundqvist on the last lap on the outside of Turn 2. He didn’t give up and got P16 out of it.”

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Getting into the rhythm of a race weekend for the first time since last September was the first priority for Malukas, and then it was finding the best solution to support his hand and wrist.

“Everybody’s in mid-season form. I’ve been out of the car, so I don’t have all those bruises and calluses built up that you grow throughout the season. So I already knew going into it that even outside of my hand, I’m just going to be sore in general,” Malukas said. “And also, I have a new hand, so it’s like there’s a lot of new things going into it and I was trying to get the right brace for my hand going. After the first practice sessions, I went to IndyCar Medical to try to figure out, and they were the best to me.

“Massive kudos everybody from that medical team, because they worked really hard on making a brace that helped me so much. It’s pretty crazy. We made something that’s safe and gives a lot of support and stability to my hand, but also can perform for 95 laps.”

Malukas carved big chunks of time from session to session, which led to making the Firestone Fast 12. Getting to work with new teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and the drivers at Andretti Global through MSR’s technical alliance with the team, was a major benefit to his rapid progress.

Malukas got an early win by putting the No.66 into the Fast 12 in qualifying, but then faced a nervous wait to see whether his injured wrist had recovered enough to tolerate 95 laps around one of IndyCar’s most physically demanding tracks. (Spoiler alert: It had). James Black/Penske Entertainment

“The car was very good,” he said. “And obviously, looking at all the data MSR gets from Andretti; I had so many resources that we can get info from, and all the drivers. Going into qualifying, we tried something new with the hand and it worked and we made it into the Fast 12, which I could not believe. When I came into the pits and they said we did that, that was amazing.”

Heading into 95 laps of racing on Sunday at one of IndyCar’s most physically exhausting circuits, Malukas was hoping for a steady string of cautions to give his wrist a reprieve.

“There was definitely some questions going into 95 laps, because I could already feel after the first few days that the hand was starting to get some fatigue, and obviously the biggest beast was still coming up,” he said. “But I have so many people by my side, with five different people working on it and on me with my nutrition and hydration, too. We wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done without all of them. And we went in, the race started, and I was like, ‘Okay, this is 95 laps…I’m sure we’ll have a lot of yellows…a yellow now would be a little bit nice, but we went green’ and… nothing… we got to the sixth lap. And I’m like, ‘Oh boy…this is gonna be 95 laps with no breaks.’

“The max fuel and a brand new set of tires was the toughest part; the steering gets heavy, really heavy, especially later on. We also were going to go on red tires later, so more grip, and also there’s more grip on the track. So halfway through that stint, in the middle of the race, I was like, ‘You know what, I actually feel fantastic. I don’t feel any issues with the hand, the rest of my body feels great. Adrenaline… it’s a hell of a drug.

“I was just so pumped to be back in the car and just so excited that I think my body just numbed itself and I didn’t feel anything. And the whole race up until the end, it was just max push. And then, after the race, don’t get me wrong, I was done. I was eating some ice cream, definitely sore all over with new bruises and things and marks all over my body, but during the race, it felt fantastic.”

Malukas has a prime opportunity in front of him to earn an invitation to stay in the No. 66 Honda next year. There’s no commitment from either side at the moment, but if the results keep coming, it might be hard for Shank and co-owner Jim Meyer to look elsewhere.

“Just me being new and fresh with a new team, it’s just incredible,” Malukas said. “And the chemistry is awesome. I’m so happy to just be there, no matter what results we’re getting; I’m just happy to be with the crew, talk with them, hang out, and have a good time, which I think is very important. That type of comfort is something that you need to reach your max potential. This is just the best situation for me to be in, and I really do believe that being here is just going to make me better as a driver.”

Story originally appeared on Racer