What Scott McLaughlin's IndyCar Win at Mid-Ohio Means for the Championship Chase

·10 min read
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

It was a stout display of New Zealand, Australian and Team Penske power as Kiwi driver Scott McLaughlin won and Australian native and teammate Will Power finished third in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The 29-year-old McLaughlin captured his second career IndyCar win and the second of 2022, having previously won the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Florida.

He celebrated by climbing out of his car and performed a somersault in the grass area in front of his parents, who were on hand for the first time to see their son race in North America (they had previously been prevented from seeing him in-person due to COVID-19 restrictions in either the U.S. or New Zealand).

“It’s amazing, I really wanted to get a win here for Mom and Dad,” McLaughlin, now in his second season racing for Team Penske and in North America, told NBC Sports. “To have Mom and Dad here was super special, America’s weekend. Last night I was dressed up (in a costume) as a bald eagle. Maybe I need to do that every Fourth of July weekend.

“It was tough. We’re thinking about fuel (mileage) but thankfully Chevy gave us great fuel mileage and drivability off the restarts that allowed me to get a little bit of a gap from (runner-up Alex) Palou and Honda there.

“I’m really proud of the guys, the car they gave me, it was a little hard to drive at the end. I would have liked to make it a little easy on myself.”

McLaughlin was followed in the top-10 by Palou, Power, Rinus VeeKay, Scott Dixon, Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, highest-finishing rookie David Malukas and Simon Pagenaud.

Power was unquestionably the second-biggest story of the race. He qualified a poor 21st, then was involved in a first-lap solo spin that dropped him to the back of the 27-car field in the 80-lap event.

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

But the veteran driver used savvy and smart pacing, as well as excellent strategy, to not only crack the top 10 but ultimately finished third behind McLaughlin and Palou.

“Amazing day, amazing day,” Power told NBC Sports. “I said in a strategy meeting, which I have a few times this year when we qualified badly, a top-10 would be great.

“Some good restarts, good exchanges, good pit stops, good strategy and a great job by the team. I’m over the moon. Starting at the back is certainly more entertaining than leading from the front. We have to get on top of the qualifying. … I’m stoked. We’re having such a great year.”

Power is having a great year, indeed. He remains second in the NTT IndyCar Series driver standings, just 20 points behind Indianapolis 500 winner and points leader Marcus Ericsson.

“You just have to keep your head in these races,” Power told NBC. “As you see every week, so much happens. If you don’t make any mistakes, even if you don’t pass anyone, you’re going to make up positions. You just have to be smart.

“This is IndyCar racing and you can never, ever predict what’s going to happen, even in qualifying. Loving it and I hope the fans are too because I don’t think there’s any series in the world like it.”

The season has now passed the halfway point, with nine races in the books and eight more events still to go. Chevrolet has absolutely dominated things with wins in seven of those events, including six by Team Penske drivers (Josef Newgarden with three wins, McLaughlin with two, and Power with one). Patricio O’Ward is the other Chevy driver to drive to victory lane this year.

Meanwhile, Palou was the highest-finishing Honda-powered driver Sunday.

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

Ericsson Still in IndyCar Points Lead

Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson remains atop the point standings for the third straight race. Power is still in second, 20 points behind, followed by teammate Josef Newgarden (-34), Palou (-35), Pato O’Ward (-65), Scott Dixon (-67), McLaughlin (-69) improved from ninth to seventh, followed by Alexander Rossi (-92), Simon Pagenaud (-104) and Colton Herta (-109).

Eight races remain on the schedule, with the next event on July 17, the first Honda Indy Toronto event north of the border since 2019 (the 2020 and 2021 races there were canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions).

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

O'Ward Fails to Capitalize on Pole

It was arguably the worst day of the year for Arrow McLaren SP as both its drivers—Felix Rosenqvist and pole-sitter Pato O’Ward—suffered mechanical issues that left them with a rare double DNF.

Rosenqvist was the first victim of mechanical malady, his car going up in smoke on Lap 10, ending his day with a last-place finish in the 27-car field.

Rosenqvist’s car began chugging and losing power, then seemed to rid itself of the problem for a few seconds, before it fully gave up the ghost and came to a stop, his day and race over. Speculation on the problem centered around either an electrical issue or motor or gearbox failure.

“Came out of Turn 2 and it felt kind like I was on the pit limiter,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports. “Then we got going again after I pulled the clutch, for some reason, and then on the straight it completely lost drive. I’m not sure what happened. It’s just unfortunate. We had a real, real good run. Yeah, big loss for us today. You never know what might have happened later on, but we were sailing out there. I think we showed we were up there and fighting for position. We’ll have to come back and do it again.”

Then on Lap 31, O’Ward began screaming on his team radio, ‘I’m losing power, I’m losing power.” He promptly pitted for new tires and fuel, but there was little that could be done mechanically and he was sent back out on-track to do whatever he could.

As it turned out, O’Ward managed to get 24 more laps out of his car before it died while exiting pit lane on Lap 55, the car retired for the day, finishing with a disappointing 24th-place showing.

“Apparently it was something fuel delivery-wise,” O’Ward told NBC Sports about what happened to his car. “It managed to just keep getting worse and worse and worse and then it failed. Yeah, it’s a bummer, man. It’s frustrating because we threw away an easy podium for us there."

O’Ward previously won at Barber Motorsports Park in a late-race pass. He led most of the first 30 laps of Sunday's race.

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

Another Forgettable Day for Rossi

After his three best finishes of the season in a row—fifth in the Indianapolis 500, second at Belle Isle and third at Road America, which took him from 11th in the driver standings to seventh—Alexander Rossi fell backward in Sunday’s race.

While he had a fast car and was in the top 10 for much of the event, Rossi finished 19th, dropping him back to eighth place in the standings.

On Laps 61 and 62, Rossi had two incidents with Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean. One Lap 61, both drivers touched wheels but were able to continue.

But the second contact on the next lap between the two sent both cars off the track. Rossi was able to get back going, but Grosjean had to have help from safety workers to get his car started again.

“What the heck’s wrong with him?” Grosjean shouted on his team radio about Rossi.

With six laps to go, Grosjean asked his team strategist over the radio, “What do you want me to do, drop everyone behind and not go ahead?”

Grosjean was given orders: “I want you to protect your two teammates up front.”

A frustrated Grosjean responded, “Because Rossi put me in the wall, I’m not going to protect him.”

To which Grosjean was told, “Rossi is not a lap down, remember. You are.”

As for Rossi, here’s what he had to say about the incidents with Grosjean:

“It was just a racing incident. He was on a softer tire, probably was going to get around me and he likes to do it fast and early. We had some issues there, obviously it’s unfortunate to happen to a teammate, but that’s the way it goes.”

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

Modest Improvement for Johnson

Jimmie Johnson had a rough start to the race, qualifying last in the 27-car field.

The seven-time NASCAR Cup champion appeared headed to yet another poor finish—he’s finished 20th or worse in 15 of his 21 IndyCar race starts to date. But Johnson surprised somewhat, avoiding contact with other drivers and finished 16th, his second-best showing of both this season and his brief IndyCar career to date.

That showing broke a streak of Johnson finishing 20th or worse in his previous six starts and seven of his last eight starts. His only better finish both this season and in his IndyCar annals was sixth, earlier this season on the oval at Texas Motor Speedway.

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

But Wait, There's More

Making his 250th career IndyCar start, Graham Rahal bounced back from a poor showing in the first half of the race to ultimately finish 12th, right behind Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate and rookie Christian Lundgaard. The third RLL driver, Jack Harvey, continues to struggle, finishing 20th, the last driver on the lead lap. … In the second race of the season with two female drivers, Simona De Silvestro—in her second of three scheduled starts for Paretta Autosport this season—finished 18th, while A.J. Foyt Racing’s Tatiana Calderon was knocked out of the race with 29 laps to go due to mechanical issues and finished 25th.

Results

1. (2) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 80, Running
2. (7) Alex Palou, Honda, 80, Running
3. (21) Will Power, Chevrolet, 80, Running
4. (11) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 80, Running
5. (5) Scott Dixon, Honda, 80, Running
6. (13) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 80, Running
7. (14) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 80, Running
8. (15) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 80, Running
9. (8) David Malukas, Honda, 80, Running
10. (6) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 80, Running
11. (16) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 80, Running
12. (18) Graham Rahal, Honda, 80, Running
13. (22) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 80, Running
14. (19) Takuma Sato, Honda, 80, Running
15. (3) Colton Herta, Honda, 80, Running
16. (27) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 80, Running
17. (20) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 80, Running
18. (25) Simona De Silvestro, Chevrolet, 80, Running
19. (12) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 80, Running
20. (24) Jack Harvey, Honda, 80, Running
21. (17) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 79, Running
22. (23) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 78, Running
23. (10) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 57, Mechanical
24. (1) Pato O'Ward, Chevrolet, 52, Mechanical
25. (26) Tatiana Calderon, Chevrolet, 51, Mechanical
26. (9) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 28, Contact
27. (4) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 8, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner's average speed:
101.557 mph
Time of Race:
1:46:43.3290
Margin of victory:
0.5512 of a second
Cautions:
6 for 17 laps
Lead changes:
3 among 4 drivers

Lap Leaders:
O'Ward, Pato 1-28
McLaughlin, Scott 29-52
Herta, Colton 53-59
McLaughlin, Scott 60-80

Updated IndyCar Point Standings

Ericsson 321, Power 301, Newgarden 287, Palou 286, O'Ward 256, Dixon 254, McLaughlin 252, Rossi 229, Pagenaud 217, Herta 212, Rosenqvist 208, VeeKay 193, Daly 188, Grosjean 183, Rahal 177, Castroneves 160, Lundgaard 159, Sato 149, Malukas 145, Harvey 115, Johnson 99, DeFrancesco 99, Kirkwood 98, Ilott 97, Tony Kanaan 78, Santino Ferrucci 71, Kellett 70, Calderon 58, JR Hildebrand 53, Ed Carpenter 49, Juan Pablo Montoya 44, De Silvestro 21, Marco Andretti 17, Sage Karam 14, Stefan Wilson 10

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski