Finishing 20th was not in Scott McLaughlin’s plans in his first career start in the Indianapolis 500.
The newest member of the Team Penske IndyCar quartet of drivers notched Indy 500 rookie of the year honors, even though it was only a two-horse race between himself and Pietro Fittipaldi (who finished 25th), grandson of legendary and former 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi.
Even though he was competing on only the second oval track of his career – albeit the most famous oval track in the world – McLaughlin had mixed emotions; it was more about his overall finish than his performance.
“I’m happy to get rookie of the year, that was the main goal, but I would have liked to have finished higher up, in that front group,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t know if I could have won the race, but I certainly felt I could at least (finish) in the top 10. I feel as though I could have been a factor, so it’s a bit of a bittersweet day.”
The biggest issue McLaughlin suffered was when he made a costly mistake on his second pit stop about one-third of the way through the race. He came onto pit road too fast and was assessed a speeding penalty that caused him to lose several places. At the same time, it was a learning moment for him, one he vowed not to let happen again.
“One mistake, it just eats you,” McLaughlin said. “You can’t make mistakes here, it needs to be a perfect day. That’s why experience is so important in this sport. It’s a place that really bites you, especially when you don’t see it coming.
“I didn’t quite pump my brake pedal up and had a stone cold set of rotors coming into pit lane. I’m thankful that no one was hurt, as I came in there pretty hot.”
But at the same time, there were positives, as well.
“For my first Indy 500, to see Helio (race winner Helio Castroneves) get his fourth, is tremendous,” McLaughlin said. “It was amazing to hear the crowd as I was getting out of the car. After 2020, how dull it was (without the fans), it was a great 2021.”
The driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet then added, “I’m proud for everyone on the car. I have many more (Indy 500s) hopefully.”
That the New Zealand native stayed out of trouble – other than his bad pit stop – and finished all 200 laps Sunday was commendable in and of itself, but that did little to appease McLaughlin.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform on a high level, that’s probably why I’m so upset right now,” he said. “You come in here and feel the energy in the place, it gives you goosebumps and you want to perform on the big stage.
“I felt up until that pit stop, we were real solid, we were saving fuel and the car was good. I was learning a ton and made some great passes, which I really enjoyed. We even went four-wide, which was pretty interesting for a little bit, but at the end of the day it was a learning experience and learn to always check my brake pedal coming into the pits.
“I felt like I learned a ton this whole month, I really enjoyed it, it’s been a more positive month than negative month for me and I did every lap I possibly can. So, it bodes well for me for the rest of the season and when I come back here next year. So yeah, it’s all good.
“It’s twice we showed some pretty good pace on both ovals. … My goal this year is finish every lap in every race and I’ve done that. It’s experience and I’ll move forward from here.”
McLaughlin then capsulized his first experience at Indianapolis by essentially adhering to the old saying of if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
“I plan on being here for a long time,” McLaughlin said.
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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