Race Weekend Central

Scott McLaughlin Leads Penske Charge at Barber After Tough Week

A week of controversy that draped Scott McLaughlin and his fellow Team Penske squad didn’t stand in his way, as he dominated to win and repeat in the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix on Sunday (April 28). 

Penske teammate Will Power followed in second, making it 1-2 Penske finish and concluding one of the most scrutinized weeks the long-time NTT IndyCar Series team has experienced since at least its failure to make the 1995 Indianapolis 500. It was McLaughlin’s second win at Barber Motorsports Park.

“We know what we need to do,” McLaughlin told NBC Sports. “I’m just super proud of the execution. The Good Ranchers Chevy was so good, even a couple of yellows didn’t fall our way, but we just showed our pace.”

Rookie Linus Lundqvist had his best race in his young IndyCar career, finishing third and earning his first podium in his career. Felix Rosenqvist, who continues a strong start to the season, finished fourth, followed by Palou.

Much like last year, the caution periods were the major factor in deciding the outcome. McLaughlin seemed to be behind with his three-stop strategy when he pitted during a yellow on lap 47. But as he worked his way through traffic, another caution came out for Sting Ray Robb’s crash into the tire barriers, which forced all two-stoppers to the pit lane.

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Josef Newgarden: "I Didn't Know I Did Something Wrong in St. Pete"

The timing was perfect for McLaughlin who used the ensuing restart to stretch his gap enough to hold the top spot when he pitted for a final time under green, coming out well ahead of two-stop leader Alex Palou

The win came at a pivotal time for the historic Team Penske IndyCar operation, who was put under a microscope earlier in the week when all three cars were penalized for having the capability to illegally use of push-to-pass at the first two rounds of the season. After both McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden were stripped of their finishing positions at St. Petersburg after it was deemed they did use the horsepower advantage, the New Zealand driver started Sunday’s race dead last in the championship. He jumped 20 spots in the standings after this win.

“You know, definitely one of my best drives in terms of just execution and just knocking out the laps, and really happy we could advance to the checkered flag,” McLaughlin said.

All Penske drivers tried to put the week behind them about the controversial actions, which were obviously not well received by the paddock. The only thing the team could do was focus on the results on Sunday, and two of the drivers put together strong finishes.

At one point mid-race, both McLaughlin and Power were caught fighting through traffic, trying to make up ground on the two-stop cars, who didn’t pit like they did. The battle was close, with Power for a lap besting McLaughlin before he worked his way around and put multiple cars between he and his closest competition. 

For Newgarden, who took the brunt of the scrutiny after using the push-to-pass illegally the most en route to an initial victory at St Pete, Barber was not what he needed to get back into the championship hunt. He had an uphill fight after starting eighth and committed to a two-stop strategy. While his teammates had the fuel to burn, he did not and eventually was forced to make a final splash for fuel on lap 67. He finished 16th. 

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Upon Further Review: Warming Up to Disqualifications

With the clouds of the Penske penalties hanging over the entire paddock, there seemed to be a need to put on the best show possible to regather attention on the championship. The field provided that, racing close quarters from the drop of the green.

At the best passing opportunity at Barber in turn 5, the racing surface was turned into a basketball court, as drivers repeatedly hip-checked with their sidepods for positions exiting out of there. Multiple run-offs also occurred, with even eventual runner-up Power finding the gravel at one time before recovering. 

With the physical nature of the driving, strategy calls were turned into games of Russian roulette, as teams vainly attempted the right time to pit or hope for yellows. An early yellow for Pietro Fittipaldi being knocked off track by Pato O’Ward extended the decision point for teams, but by lap 27, drivers showed their hand.

When McLaughlin came in on lap 29, it became a race between his strategy and Palou, who like Romain Grosjean last year, needed a green track the rest of the way to play into his hand. Unfortunately for the defending champion, that’s not what happened. 

Last week’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Scott Dixon saw first hand the challenges in turn 5 when he dropped a wheel off the track while attempting a pass on the outside of Graham Rahal. He recovered to finish 15th but lost the lead in the points battle. Colton Herta, who finished eighth, took the top spot from Dixon and leads by one point heading into the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Sunday was Team Penske’s seventh win at Barber, the most by any team.

2024 IndyCar Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix Results

Next up, IndyCar heads to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the Sonsio Grand Prix. Coverage will begin Saturday, May 11, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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Kicks

With all the side bumping, I had to remind myself I was watching IndyCars and not Nascar.

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