It was opening weekend for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season in St Petersburg, and it was a career weekend for Scott McLaughlin. The Team Penske driver outdueled teammate Will Power for pole position on Saturday and followed it up by fending off the reigning series champion Alex Palou to earn his first career victory. It is the 223rd IndyCar win for Roger Penske, as the second-year driver finished 0.509 seconds ahead of Palou.
Power joined his teammate on the podium with Andretti Autosport drivers Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean rounding out the top five on Sunday. Herta was the defending race winner heading into the event, and this was the debut for Grosjean in the No. 28 Honda with Andretti. McLaughlin led 49 of the 100 laps as he battled with Palou at the end after the Ganassi driver started the race in 10th position.
“Thank you to Roger Penske, everyone,” McLaughlin said. “Yeah, DEX Imaging jumping on board, trusting me, and then Roger Penske and Tim Cindric giving me the opportunity to come here. I miss my mom and dad dearly and my family. Wish you guys were here. What a day.”
“Oh, man, it was crazy,” McLaughlin said of Palou’s pressure. “Really struggled those last couple laps just to keep my head and then save the fuel and all that sort of stuff. But we did it. Chevy gave us the fuel mileage. Drivability this weekend has been a change, and to win at DEX Imaging’s home race is unreal. Oh, my God, I’m just – love you Australia, New Zealand, miss you guys. Thinking of everyone in the Queensland floods at the moment.”
Palou made a valiant effort to steal the victory but ran out of time. “It was close,” Palou said. “It was really, really close, but I don’t think we had the pace he had today. Like he was on rails, and he knew where to go fast and where to obviously save some fuel at the end. I was just there trying to make some pressure so hopefully, he made a mistake or anything, but no, he was all good. Congrats to him. I’m super happy that he got his first win. Yeah, I’m happier that we got our first podium of the year.”
After a disappointing end to the season last year, Rinus VeeKay got off to a solid start in 2022 with a 6th place finish. Just behind the Ed Carpenter Racing driver was Graham Rahal, who finished 7th to lead the way for RLL Racing. Scott Dixon led his first laps at St Petersburg since the 2012 race but remains winless here. His Ganassi teammate Marcus Ericsson finished behind him in 9th and Takuma Sato rounded out the top ten in his No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
There is more good news for McLaughlin and the team. The driver that has won the season-opening race has gone on to win the championship in each of the last three years.
Pato O’Ward struggled to find his way to the front after starting back in the pack due to a mistake he made during qualifying. He made up quite a few positions in the opening laps but did not have the pace to stay up there and finished 12th. Josef Newgarden is another championship contender that had a rough day, as he was relegated to a 16th place finish.
Meyer Shank Racing teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud did not have a good Sunday either, as they finished 15th and 16th respectively. Alexander Rossi had an aggressive strategy and was able to lead 10 laps when those in front of him pitted, but a mistake on pit lane with a tire ultimately ruined his day as he finished 20th. Those Indy 500 winners will all have to wait a few weeks before their next opportunity to get that bad taste out of their mouths.
The next race on the schedule is the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway on March 20. NBC will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 12:30 PM ET on Sunday.