McLaughlin says he can win Indy from 26th, Newgarden agrees

Team Penske-Chevrolet’s sophomore Scott McLaughlin says he can cut through to the front from the ninth row of the grid in Sunday’s 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 – and he has the backing of teammate Josef Newgarden.

McLaughlin says he can win Indy from 26th, Newgarden agrees
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McLaughlin and Newgarden had been 15th and 14th respectively after their late first qualifying runs on Saturday, held in the heat of the day, and both pulled their times to try and improve and join teammate Will Power in the Top 12 segment. However in dense, muggy air that followed a rainstorm, their cars had too much drag. McLaughlin’s reset average was 1.4mph slower than his first run and he tumbled to 26th.

Newgarden was next out, but rain and nearby lightning arrived just before he took the green flag for his new four-lap run, so after the caution was thrown, the relieved two-time IndyCar champion was allowed to slot back into 14th.

Nonetheless, both are confident that McLaughlin can storm through the field and contend for victory on Sunday.

“It all comes down to how strong you are and how strong your car is,” said Newgarden. “This is a 500-mile race; you could start last here and win.”

After citing the example of Juan Pablo Montoya who had to restart at the back in 2015 after sustaining damage from a rival’s car, and came through to win, Newgarden added: “I’m not saying that to be optimistic. That’s the damn truth. There’s a million ways this race can go, but you can absolutely win this race from last.”

“Sure it’s easier to win it from fifth,” said McLaughlin, “but I think this year we’re going to be plenty fast enough…

“I know I’m going to have to be quite strong in the opening laps to at least make some ground. We’re going to set goals for me throughout the run. I think we’ve had a really good pitcrew this year, one of the fastest consistently, so I’m confident that we can get the exchanges right. That’s probably where I’m going to make up a lot of my spots. I don’t think we have go crazy with strategy to pass people, especially in the hot conditions and potentially blustery conditions; I feel like my car will be alright.”

Asked about Chevrolet’s fuel mileage, Newgarden replied: “I think we have a great opportunity with Chevy. We’ve done a tremendous step everywhere we’ve been so far, and I think Indy is the same deal. We should have a very good shot to compete at the very highest level on Sunday. And for someone like Scott, he doesn’t have to go off-strategy. I don’t think that’ll be their first go-to. It’s a long race and he’s got a lot of time to make his way forward. And it’s the same thing for us, from where we’re starting.

“The best strategy always is to have a fast car, and that’s what Tim [Cindric, Team Penske president] says too; if you’re fast, you can make any strategy work. So as long as everything goes smoothly and we have good cars, we should be in good shape to challenge.”

Penske is this year down to three cars, and McLaughlin is now working with race engineer Ben Bretzman, with whom ex-Penske driver Simon Pagenaud used to come up with the best of the team’s race setups for Indy more often than not in his seven years there. McLaughlin echoes what Bretzman anticipated when he spoke to Motorsport.com back in March – that there has been a happy convergence between his driving style at the Speedway and the setup he’s been given.

The three-time Supercars champion said: “I’m very lucky that my natural style – I didn’t try and copy anyone but I did look at everyone’s data – works basically the same as Simon’s in how to drive around here. Ben said it helped him set up the car.

“At the same time, I’ve got to keep looking to evolve myself, and my timing. But yeah, thankfully I’ve been able to drive the car how I want it and Ben’s been able to pick it up.”

McLaughlin with race engineer Ben Bretzman.

McLaughlin with race engineer Ben Bretzman.

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

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