Fans and pundits alike expected fireworks in the IndyCar XPEL 375, and they got what they wanted out of a hectic 2022 race. Texas Motor Speedway has always been a cruel racetrack—something that Scott McLaughlin experienced firsthand—but add in a schedule change that saw NTT IndyCar Series teams racing in March during the day rather than June at night, and it was even more of a four-wheeled circus than usual. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden came away the winner, but several drivers took away lessons that they’ll carry with them for the rest of the year.
Here’s what NTT IndyCar Series fans can take away from the XPEL 375 as viewers now look ahead to Long Beach and the rest of the 17-race season:
Texas Giveth—and Texas Taketh Away
Josef Newgarden picked up Team Penske’s 600th win (and a nice $600 bonus from Roger Penske) on the final lap, giving the XPEL 375 another one of its jaw-dropping finishes. There have been more than 20 different race winners at Texas, with numerous events coming down to the wire. Newgarden reminded everyone that Texas isn’t over until the very last moment, and there were several other drivers who got very bad breaks in the Lone Star State.
The most notable was Alexander Rossi, who didn’t even make it 15 laps before he was penalized and knocked out of the race by a technical problem. “We got to see the green flag, that was cool,” Rossi quipped, when one must imagine how frustrated he’s become over the last few seasons. It’s also been tough for fans to see a one-time championship contender have such consistently bad luck. Rumors have been swirling that Rossi may leave Andretti Autosport in the next free-agency period, and maybe a change of scenery is what he needs.
Andretti had a rough day overall, though, with all three of its cars not making it to the checkered flag. Perhaps they can commiserate with the folks at Arrow McLaren SP, who saw two contending cars turn into also-rans when they struggled in the pits. Texas is one of the most intense tracks on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule, and moments like those are exactly why. Even Newgarden’s win was the result of him making one last very risky move. He could’ve just as easily ended his race as won it, and luckily it was the latter.
McLaughlin Cements His Title Contention
Scott McLaughlin described himself as “gutted” after losing his chance at a second consecutive victory, and understandably so. McLaughlin was the biggest force on track all day, and yet came up short by less than a second. However, many drivers have had close calls like that, in Texas in particular—it’s how he’ll rebound from that which matters. And McLaughlin’s performance proved that what happened last week wasn’t a fluke; he really is one of the new movers and shakers in the NTT IndyCar Series.
The No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet qualified well for the IndyCar XPEL 375, just missing out on another career pole, and McLaughlin kept the car up front most of the afternoon. Most importantly, he managed the car well when it was in traffic, keeping his calm instead of pushing to get around slow traffic and destroying his tires or burning too much fuel. That potentially bit him in the behind on the final lap, when he ended up stuck behind Callum Ilott and Newgarden was able to make the race-winning move, but it would have been worse if McLaughlin had been too aggressive earlier and ended up in a wreck (see: Devlin DeFrancesco).
This runner-up finish will sting McLaughlin for now, but if he can continue to show this kind of discipline and qualify consistently, he’ll be at the top of the field in 2022.
Jimmie Johnson Arrives in Style
Jimmie Johnson has had to listen to a lot of doubters since coming over to the NTT IndyCar Series, and his result at the XPEL 375 should silence them for at least a while. Johnson’s been on a very steep learning curve, and hasn’t been expecting to contend right away as a result. But circumstances were different in Texas, where he’d turned more laps in competition than anyone else by a wide margin, and had won a whole handful of NASCAR races, too. Sure, that’s a wholly different discipline, but it was valuable experience that paid off.
He piloted the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to his best career IndyCar finish and narrowly missed out on the Top 5 (thanks to his teammate Scott Dixon). That’s encouraging news since the next oval race on the 2022 schedule is the Indianapolis 500. Johnson won’t be an Indy 500 contender right out of the box, but if he takes half of what he knows about/learned from Texas to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, he can certainly put on another great show. That’s good news for him and really, for all of IndyCar, because Jimmie Johnson can bring so much to the sport but he’s been short-changed by people expecting him to replicate his NASCAR success so quickly.
Just wait—he’s hitting his stride and if he keeps doing what he just did, he’ll be making things very interesting this year.
The 2022 IndyCar season continues on Sunday, April 10 with the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on the Streets of Long Beach. Race coverage begins at 12:00 p.m. ET on NBC.
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