Scott McLaughlin opened the season with a statement-making pole and win and added to it with a strong run to second place at the next race. Leading the NTT IndyCar Series championship after two rounds, the Team Penske driver’s year has taken an unsavory turn with a slide to 10th in the standings after finishes of 20th at the Indy GP, 29th at the double-points Indy 500 and 19th last weekend in Detroit.
Far from being out of the championship frame, Team Penske’s New Zealander is in need of a clean race or two to reignite his early-season form.
“The good thing is we have the pace and we’re not running poorly; we’re right there and I’m pushing my teammates and that’s one thing that’s been really positive for me,” McLaughlin told RACER. “But yeah, it’s been a tough run here.
“I was working it out last night in my head and I feel like every race this year, we’ve been in a position to finish in the top five. But I crashed at Indy, had the wrong tires on at the Indy GP, I went off the track in front of [Scott] Dixon at Barber but still finished sixth.
“That was okay, but then at Long Beach, I probably would have finished top six there but hit the wall like a d*******. So like I said, the pace is there, but the results lately haven’t been.”
McLaughlin’s personality isn’t built for shrugging off the bad days. He’s his own worst critic; dwells on the poor results and uses a burning intensity to try and overcome the deficiencies. Maintaining a sunny disposition while fighting to break through the recent slide has been a challenge, but it’s an inner battle he says he’s winning.
“So for me, mindset-wise, I’m still in a very good spot there and I feel like I’m driving really well,” he added. “But the problem is – which I’m working through – is I do 99.5-percent of the race, right, and it’s 0.5-percent of the race where I do one mistake, like I did on the weekend in Detroit and it ruins the day.
“That’s what I’m having to learn. That’s what I’m having to just iron out, the little details you need to do to be a complete championship contender in IndyCar.
“Am I disappointed with the run we’ve had since Indy? Yeah, for sure. But I am proud of the progress I’ve made from this time last year and where we’re at, having won a race, nearly won two races, had a pretty solid run going in the Indy 500.
“It’s just improving the bits and pieces. There’s a lot of things to be positive about. But there’s also a few negative things that I need to work out myself. And I’m working on them as we speak.”
With a couple of fast and flowing road courses up next on the calendar, McLaughlin could easily draw down the 82-point gap to championship leader and teammate Will Power.
“I am certainly looking at Road America and Mid-Ohio to get those bits and pieces sorted, and I love both of those tracks with all my heart; probably two of the top five tracks I’ve ever been on in my career,” he said. “And I’m super excited to go there and get going. But like I said, I just need to get a solid race under my belt. For me, it’s all about execution. Control what I can control and make it happen.”