Ethan Miller is 17 years old and resides in Pennsylvania. He aspires to become a sports writer following high school, and views writing for Speedway Digest as the next step towards a career in journalism. Ethan currently hosts the QuickPitPodcast with a few fellow NASCAR fans, which can be found on all major podcast platforms.
“I just want to be driving race cars for the rest of my life and that is my number one goal.”
For Ryan Vargas, a 22-year-old Californian with a humble background, the journey to reach that goal hasn’t been easy. The Xfinity Series driver has 67 career starts under his belt, all but one with the David-esque JD Motorsports, and has only two career top tens in 4 years racing part-time in NASCAR’s second-level series. Despite all that, however, Vargas looks towards the future.
Vargas was introduced to racing in his childhood in Southern California when his parents took him to Monster Jam events, which sparked his passion for “anything with four wheels and a motor”, as he said himself. A trip to Irwindale Speedway when he was 9 turned that spark into a 3 alarm fire.
“It's our local short track,” Vargas recalled, “and as we're there we see a recess aide from my elementary school and I'm just kind of thinking myself, ‘Oh, that's wild, that you’re here,’ and she just happens to tell me about her son's racing, a bandolero race car, and that they plan on actually selling that car. My eyes immediately light up and I'm just kind of like, ‘OK, this is something I want to do.’”
Vargas wrecked the car in his first time testing a bandolero; driving home from the test, his dad gave him a choice.
“He said, ‘Look, we could do one of two things. We can race. But if we do this, we're going to make sure that you're a champion by the end of this, and if not that's fine. We can go and race K1 Speed on the weekends with some friends and you just do your normal school stuff and all that and find a job.’
It took me about 5 minutes to decide that I want to drive a race car and we haven't looked back.”
After finding success in bandoleros, street stocks, and late models on the west coast, Vargas moved to the east coast to advance his career with Rev Racing’s Drive for Diversity program. The initiative is designed to create more opportunities in NASCAR for minorities and women both behind the wheel and in the garage. The 2018 class includes Vargas, then 18, Ernie Francis, Jr. (SRX winner and TransAm champion), Nick Sanchez (2022 ARCA champion with 8 career Xfinity races), among others. Moving to the east coast and fully diving into a professional racing career while still being a teenager helped mold Vargas into the man he is today.
“My dad moved here with me for a few months and once I turned 18 and was able to kind of support myself, he moved back to California with my mom and I basically took over trying to cover things and do my own stuff, do groceries and all that,” Vargas said. “I was freshly 18 years old and now living on my own for the first time in this area that I didn't know. And that was intimidating, but it was a lot of fun, and in 2019 when I was racing late models and stuff and making my Xfinity debut and stuff, I was racing my winnings from late model races to pay for rent and groceries through those deals that I got. It was a very big learning experience for me on how to grow the business side of being a racecar driver so that you can actually live doing so and that was a very important point in my life.”
His first career Xfinity start came in 2019 at Iowa Speedway for JD Motorsports in the 15 car, where he finished a respectable 17th. 2 more starts came that year, one at Road America when he finished on the lead lap, and one in the penultimate race at Phoenix.
He then ran 9 races in 2020, all for JDM once again, with the last 6 being the final 6 of the season with social media giant TikTok on the car. Vargas has a penchant for finding big sponsors; he’s brought in the aforementioned TikTok, Swann, Best Buy, Critical Path Security, Williamsburg Contracting, and Reddit to support his racing career. As to how he continues to draw big brands, Vargas isn’t entirely sure.
“It's funny 'cause I don't know,” he explained. “I try to be the squeaky wheel. I try to make sure I follow up, I'm very hands on with all of these programs that I put together. I'm very up front with all of my partners, I make sure that they know what they're getting into when they sign on with me. I want them to know that everything that is put out there is put out there by me, and that I have a direct influence on the partnership.”
“Putting a sticker on the car, that doesn't mean anything anymore,” Vargas said.
“It's about making sure that you actually return it for your partners and then everything will sort itself out.”
Vargas makes sure that the companies know that he’s behind the sponsorship deal at hand, and he alone focuses on making the deals succeed. The level of responsibility, however, is not lost on him.
“I'm aware that I have a lot on my shoulders when it comes to finding new partners,” Vargas said. “Obviously I email a lot, I do a lot of cold calling; it's definitely a lot, it's definitely stressful, but that's what you gotta do to be in this sport, and that's what’s kept me in this sport, so I'm willing to do whatever it takes to keep me here.”
Vargas’s grassroots sponsorship campaign allowed him to compete on a nearly full-time basis with JDM in 2021 and 2022, running 29 and 26 races, respectively. Each year he improved his points finish, and in 2022 he scored a career-high 6th place finish at Daytona in August.
“I think we accomplished a lot of our goals,” Vargas said. “We kept cars clean, I think I have the least amount of incidents of any driver in Xfinity, which is a very important stat to have.”
Following his successful 2022 season, Vargas announced this offseason that he would be moving on from JDM, with whom he’s spent the first four years of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career. He’s ready for the next step of his racing career.
“There's just things that you come to the realization of and you just kind of decide, ‘It's time for me to take a little bit of a leap,’” Vargas explained. “I wish John and his organization nothing but the best. But I do look forward to changing things up in 2023. Things are still very fluid at the moment. Things are still very, very much in the works. I'm very confident that I'll be able to figure out my plans here in the coming few days.”
Vargas has not announced his plans for 2023 and beyond yet, but he’s optimistic for his future in the sport.
“If I'm driving, my overall goal is to get into a highly competitive Xfinity ride in the coming years and run full time, chase wins, chase championships,” Vargas said. “But that does come with time, I do need more seat time, I need more experience at these bigger teams…But now, moving into the future I hope to find myself a seat at the table and hopefully one day, like I mentioned, chase the championship one day.”
Ryan Vargas is young, but he’s got a ton of seat time already. He’s got the personality, talent, and business smarts to grow a successful career in the upper ranks of NASCAR. He’s not a household name yet- but watch for Ryan Vargas to make a splash in the coming years.
Formula 1 has experienced tremendous growth globally, especially in the United States, over the last 5 years. The organization is desperate to tap into the vast American market but they’ve been missing the biggest component to American commercial success: a home-grown driver. Until now. On Sunday, Williams Racing announced that American Logan Sargeant will join the team in 2023.
In 2022, the Williams Racing lineup featured Nicholas Latifi and Alex Albon, a pairing which produced only 8 points to this point in the season. Albon was signed to a multi-year extension in August; one month later, Williams announced that Latifi would not return to the team following 2022, leaving the team with an open seat for 2023. Latifi scored only 7 points in nearly 3 full seasons with Williams to date, and was repeatedly outperformed by teammates George Russell (2019-2021) and Albon (2022). Prior to Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, the team had not revealed Latifi’s replacement.
During Saturday’s press conference prior to the race on Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, Williams team principal Jost Capito slipped in the team’s decision for their second driver in 2023 and beyond. Logan Sargeant, a 21-year-old American from Florida, will replace Latifi at Williams next year provided that he achieves enough FIA SuperLicense points to be eligible for a Formula 1 drive. Sargeant replaced Latifi for Free Practice 1 on Saturday and will also run FP1 at Mexico and Abu Dhabi to increase his chances at reaching the license threshold.
“I think with every rookie who comes in, and he had one season in Formula 2, and I’m a fan of getting young drivers as quick through as possible into Formula 1 because the series, the cars, compared to Formula 1 cars, lack tracks, so get him in as soon as possible and find out if he’s capable to stay in Formula 1 long-term – which we believe he is,” Capito said. “His first year in F2, and he won races, and he has been qualifying very strong, all the years in his career, so we believe he’s absolutely ready to get into Formula 1.”
Sargeant won two races in F2 this year, in back-to-back events at Silverstone and Austria, becoming the first American to win in the series since Alexander Rossi in 2013. He currently sits in third place in the F2 standings with 1 race left; in order to obtain a SuperLicense, he needs to finish the season in 5th place or higher in the driver standings. Should he succeed, and be officially signed to Williams Racing, he will join Alex Albon for Williams’ 2023 driver pairing. Capito is confident that the pairing will be successful next year.
“We can have a rookie because, with Alex, who’s still young but also already a very experienced driver,” Capito explained. “He established so well in the team, he gave fantastic results, he’s working well with the team, so we can put a rookie alongside him.”
Sargeant will join McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and AlphaTauri’s Nyck De Vries as drivers making their full-time Formula 1 debuts in 2023. The American will be the first driver from the states since Alexander Rossi in 2015. Rossi, an 8-time race winner in the NTT IndyCar Series since 2016, ran 5 races in F1 between 2014 and 2015 with Manor Marussia (a best finish of 12th at the 2015 USGP). The last time an American won an F1 race was in 1978, when Mario Andretti won the Dutch Grand Prix that year. Andretti is also the last American driver to win the F1 Championship, also in 1978. His son Michael Andretti is the last American to score points in 1993; Scott Speed is the most recent driver to finish in the top 10 for the red, white, and blue (2007). In short— America has a serious F1 drought. Sargeant could change everything for American fans.
Formula 1 already has 2 US races, in Miami and Austin, Texas on the schedule. Next year, they’ll add a third on the streets of Las Vegas. American interest in the series has grown exponentially since the release of Netflix reality show Drive to Survive, which goes behind the scenes of the F1 season. Adding a homegrown driver to the grid will only increase the series popularity among Americans. Instead of picking from a cast of mostly European drivers and teams, we the people have a driver to gravitate to.
Logan Sargeant is not stepping into a good car. Williams will likely finish last in the constructor standings this year, a spot that they’re familiar with over the last decade. He’ll be a rookie, competing against the best open wheel drivers on the planet. But, despite all of that, his addition to the F1 grid is monumental. It signifies a shift in the sport’s popularity in the United States and will usher in a new era of American motorsports, regardless of how he performs and how many races he runs. Sargeant signifies the next chapter of American F1; it’s lights out, and away we go.
Standing in a rain of confetti, Power recaptured the championship trophy for the first time in 8 years. Power, then 33, won his first championship in 2014 with 3 wins, dominating a season in which he never fell below second in the points standings. This year, he faced a tougher road. While he did lead the points standings early in the year, he didn’t regain the points lead until race 13/17 at Indy. Power now joins an illustrious list of multi-time IndyCar Champions with his second title on Sunday in 2022.
Power entered Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca with a 20-point lead over teammate Josef Newgarden and 6-time champion Scott Dixon. If he placed on the podium, he was guaranteed the title, and his chances of doing so looked good on Saturday. Power qualified on the pole and led the field to green. Said Power of his pole, which was the fifth of the season for him,
“I couldn't really enjoy the pole yesterday because I was so focused on the race.”
Rookie Callum Ilott put in a stellar run to start second in Sunday’s race, and had an immensely impressive race until lap 39, when his engine failed. He ended up bringing out the only caution of the race, as the remainder of the event was incident-free. Power led the first 14 laps before giving it up during a pit cycle, in which the lead changed hands multiple times. Alex Palou emerged as the leader as the race approached halfway, and he settled in as the sole frontrunner for the win. While he was eliminated from championship contention at Portland last week, Palou was winless on the season, which made the win at Laguna Seca all the more enticing. The driver of the no. 10 NTT Data Honda ran away with the lead and the win while Power fought to clinch the championship.
Josef Newgarden, still with a chance at the title, drove up to second after starting in 25th place due to a qualifying spin. He did all that he could, but was unable to catch Palou for the lead or a break that would allow him to gain more points on Power. Palou resulted in leading 67 out of 95 laps en route to a dominating win in what may have been his last race for Chip Ganassi Racing, winning by over 30 seconds. Newgarden placed second, and Power clinched his second title by taking the final podium spot.
Felix Rosenqvist, with an uncertain future in IndyCar, closed out an up-and-down season of his own to place fourth, and Christian Lundgaard wrapped up an impressive rookie season in fifth, capturing the Rookie of the Year crown.
Scott McLaughlin capped off a strong sophomore season in sixth, and Romain Grosjean finished seventh. Pato O’Ward, Marcus Ericsson, and Alexander Rossi concluded the top 10.
Power’s championship comes a year after his worst points finish in 13 years in 2021, when he finished ninth with only one win. This year, he also only had one win, at Belle Isle, but he was remarkably consistent. He had an average finish of 5.9, and only had one finish worse than 15th (19th at Road America). The championship drive was smooth and calm down the stretch as he slowly reeled in Marcus Ericsson, tallying 5 podiums in the last 7 races. Power led the series in podiums with 9, and he finished every race on the lead lap. His consistency is ultimately what won him the championship.
“You can't leave anything on the table,” Power explained. “That's what makes this series so tough and unique is that you've got all these disciplines. Even the difference between a road course and a street course is quite significant in our series because the street course is extremely rough and bumpy and tight. There's not a series like it. I'm going to say it's the toughest series in the world because of what you've got to master to win it and the competition level. You don't even have to take my word for it; just do the math on lap times, and you'll see that we're the toughest, the most competitive series in the world.”
Power was glad that it came down to the wire and wasn’t a runaway for the championship this year.
“Yeah, it was a hard fight to the end,” he said. “You're fighting Dixon and Newgarden, like two of the best guys in the series. It's very satisfying. Very satisfying. That matters. It's not fun -- it's fun at the time when you win with ease, but it's way better when it was a difficult fight to the end, which it was. It adds to the satisfaction. “
Newgarden, with his podium finish, came up second in the season points standings to Power. For the 2-time champion, now runner-up for the championship in three straight seasons, there may have been a scenario where things worked out differently; Newgarden was dominating late at Iowa when something broke in the car, knocking him out of the race and costing him dozens of points. When he fell short by only 16 points to Power in the end, the season was surely bittersweet.
Scott Dixon placed third in the standings, his sixth straight season of being top-5 in points. Scott McLaughlin finished in fourth, and 2021 champ Alex Palou climbed up to fifth with his win. 2022 Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, who led the points for multiple weeks this summer, resulted in sixth in points, meaning the top 6 spots in the standings belonged to drivers from either Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing.
With the checkered flag flying at Laguna Seca on Sunday, the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season is in the books. Not without its own intrigue and excitement, the ultra-competitive field put on a stellar show once again. Now, as 2022 concludes, all teams and drivers turn their eyes to the offseason, contract negotiations, and preparing for the beginning of the 2023 season next spring.
In fall 2020, Scott McLaughlin made his first career IndyCar start at St. Petersburg in the 2020 season finale. He crashed on lap 46. Less than 2 years later, the 29-year-old Australian SuperCars legend is poised to become the next big star in the NTT IndyCar series. McLaughlin dominated Sunday’s race at Portland International Raceway for his third win of the season.
The driver for Team Penske never gave up the lead under normal race circumstances, only ceding the lead during green flag pit stops. McLaughlin led 104 out of 110 laps after starting on the pole, and finished 1.18 seconds ahead of teammate Will Power in second. It was a total beatdown of the field by McLaughlin, and he also pulled closer in the championship fight with the final race of the season coming up. He added to his wins at St. Petersburg and Mid-Ohio earlier this year for his third career win.
Will Power, the championship leader, finished second, with 6-time champion Scott Dixon finishing third. Pato O’Ward placed fourth, and Graham Rahal continued his late summer surge with a fifth place finish, his fifth top 10 of the last seven races. Colton Herta, in the midst of F1 rumors, finished in sixth, with teammate Alexander Rossi grabbing the seventh place finishing spot. Josef Newgarden, Callum Illot, and Felix Rosenqvist rounded out the top 10 in eight, ninth, and tenth.
With one race to go in the 2022 IndyCar season, Will Power leads Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden by 20 points. Marcus Ericsson, 39 points behind, and Scott McLaughlin, 41 points behind, are both still mathematically eligible but are longshots. It’s Will Power’s title to lose, and as long as he has a solid run at Laguna Seca, he’ll clinch the title.
IndyCar closes out its 2022 season next weekend at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The race is on Sunday, September 11th at 3 PM EST on NBC, where a champion will be crowned.
It’s rare for a new team to announce a Cup Series entry and stick without major backing. Trackhouse Racing is perhaps the biggest success story; 23XI doesn’t necessarily count due to the star power behind the ownership group. Team Hezeberg announced an entry last fall and, while they have proven to be legitimate, they haven’t shown much speed in their part time entries (the Netherlands-based team does, however, get bonus points for being the only foreign-owned team in the NASCAR Cup Series).
Team Stange, despite their lofty aspirations in their March 2022 announcement, is yet to compete in a race this season and hasn’t updated their social media in 2 months. And the list goes on; more often than not, new NASCAR teams don’t make it past the introductory press conference. However, a new team has popped up on social media that plans on their own foray into NASCAR racing.
As previously stated, every new NASCAR team should be taken with a grain of salt. Announcing a brand is one task; acquiring parts, signing drivers, bringing in sponsorship, and showing up at the track is far more extensive and expensive. But based on an email obtained from team owner Dennis Hirtz, 3F Racing just might be on track to actually reach raceday this fall.
3F Racing aims to be the first German-owned NASCAR Cup Series team. Based on their website, they plan on running the no. 30 NextGen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. According to Hirtz, the team will have an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and their engines will be built in Welcome, NC.
Hirtz said of the RCR alliance,
“You need to have a strong alliance entering the sport to not run in the back.”
3F Racing plans on competing in the final 5 races in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, beginning with the Round of 12 finale at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. There, they plan on having a prestigious driver in the car for their debut race.
“The driver lineup will be released at a later point, as we are still in the last stages of the funding with our partners and sponsors,” Hirtz said via email. “Our driver for the Roval will be a two time 24h of Le Mans winner with a strong European background, and for the remaining races we will field a very experienced and well known US American NASCAR driver.”
While pure speculation, many fans believe Justin Allgaier to be the driver for the non-oval races this year, due to Allgaier being the only big NASCAR driver to follow them on social media. Earl Bamber is also suspected to be a possibility for the Roval ride, due to the fact that he has extensive sports car racing experience in Europe and IMSA, and has 2 LeMans victories. He does not follow the team on social media at the last check, and neither driver nor the team itself have announced anything official.
Hirtz says the team plans on running 10-12 races in 2023, followed by a full-time entry in 2024. Once the team is ready, they will announce drivers and officially enter the sport with a team presentation.
Their website is https://3f-racing.com/ , and they can be found on Twitter and Instagram.
It had been over 1,000 days since Alexander Rossi had last won an NTT IndyCar Series race, at Road America in 2019. 49 races had passed, the longest winless drought of his career for the 30-year-old American driver for Andretti Autosport. On Saturday, in the midst of a jam-packed doubleheader weekend featuring NASCAR and IndyCar both running races at the IMS infield circuit, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner snapped his winless streak in commanding fashion.
Felix Rosenqvist won the pole and led the first 7 laps before being passed by Colton Herta on lap 8, who in turn would cede the lead to Scott McLaughlin on lap 14. McLaughlin would lead 10 laps, then teammate Will Power took a turn out front on lap 24. Herta regained the lead as the race settled in on lap 31. Simon Pagenaud ran out of fuel, ending his day early and bringing out the second of two cautions on lap 36.
On the restart, Herta and Andretti teammate Alexander Rossi pulled away from the rest of the field, setting up a possible duel between the two young American stars. Herta, however, ran over a curb hard and broke a component in the car, forcing him to retire from the race on lap 41 and giving the lead over to Rossi.
Rossi led the remaining 44 laps to win the Gallagher Grand Prix, his first win in 3 seasons. It’s Rossi’s third podium of the 2022 season, after he placed second at Belle Isle and third at Road America. The American driver is set to leave Andretti Autosport for Arrow Mclaren SP at the conclusion of this season, making this win the potential final act for the Rossi/Andretti combination.
Said Rossi post race about finally snapping the streak and returning to victory lane,
“Yeah, it's a lot of relief I think is the main word. We've had some race wins that we've thrown away for sure, and we've had some weekends where we've just kind of not had the pace, and for whatever reason. I think that we knew things were trending in a good direction this year, and we had a solid test here a month or so ago. I think the one constant has been just the mental strength of the whole team. As challenging as it is for me, it's also hard for them. They go in every day and work their butts off, and when they don't get results, it's hard for them, as well. I think as a unit, that's one of our strengths is being able to continue to just push forward. It's a big team win and a big thank you to the whole organization.”
Rookie Christian Lundgaard garnered a career-best second place finish in the race, his first career podium. The driver for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing credited his team during his post race press conference.
“It feels amazing,” said Lundgaard. “I think the best feeling right now is that the team really deserves it. They've worked super hard, and we've had such a struggling beginning to the season, and I think coming to Toronto was when things started to change. We saw sort of a streak where we started to perform better. Even Road America, Mid-Ohio was there. We were on the edge of the top 10. To come here and finish second, I think the team deserves every bit of it. I'm just a guy doing my job really. I want to win, so I try as best I can every event.”
Lundgaard leads the rookie standings following his strong result, leading David Malukas by 27 points with 4 races to go.
Will Power finished third, his seventh podium of the year. More important was the points gain he made in the championship race, as he leapfrogged Marcus Ericsson to regain the points lead on Saturday.
“It's amazing some of the runs we've had this year,” Power said. “But yep, just kept my head and did what I could in the situation. I had to get a big fuel number and go as fast as I can. Very good day. Good day for the team all around.”
Power also acknowledged the change in mindset that comes with racing for a championship as the races wind down.
“It's not necessarily the long game, it's just that sort of attitude switch where you know these races are long, the season is long, and you've got to make the most of every situation, even if you're fighting for like 12th. If that's your day to finish 12th, well, finish 12th, not 24th.”
Power leads Ericsson by 9 points, with teammate Josef Newgarden in third place, 32 points back. Newgarden competed in Saturday’s race after doctors cleared him to race on Friday, as his recovery was in doubt following a hard crash last week at Iowa.
After Power in third, his Penske teammates Scott McLaughlin and Newgarden finished fourth and fifth. Closing out the second half of the top 10 were Rinus VeeKay, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist, and Alex Palou.
The NTT IndyCar Series will travel to Nashville this upcoming weekend for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. The event is the second race on the streets of Nashville, and will be on Sunday, August 7th at 3:00 EST on NBC
Josef Newgarden and Patricio O’Ward claimed victories at Iowa Speedway this past weekend, in a jam-packed doubleheader event presented by HyVee Grocery Stores. Featuring concerts from the likes of Blake Shelton and Gwen Stafani, fantastic on-track racing, and innovative attractions from HyVee themselves, there weren’t just 2 action packed races on Saturday and Sunday- it was a legitimate event. So often it feels, in NASCAR and IndyCar, that the races that aren’t in big markets or are key for the season itself are bland and boring, with no appeal for a casual fan to watch or attend. This weekend, however, was a huge event and a massive success for HyVee and IndyCar.
Josef Newgarden dominated the first race on Saturday en route to victory lane, leading 208 of 250 total laps in the race. It was his fourth win of the season, the most in the series as nobody else has more than two. Pato O’Ward finished second, with Will Power in third and Rinus VeeKay and Scott Dixon rounding out the top five, respectively. The win is Newgarden’s 24th of his stellar career, and the seventh of the season for Team Penske.
Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward won the second of two races on the weekend at Iowa Speedway on Sunday after race leader Josef Newgarden crashed out on lap 235 of the 300 lap contest. Newgarden, after being cleared by the medical team at the track post wreck, fainted in the paddock and suffered a head injury, leading him to be airlifted from the track to the nearest hospital. He was later revealed to be fine, staying at the hospital overnight as a precaution. Should he not be healthy enough to race in Saturday’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Santino Ferrucci has been tabbed by Team Penske to fill in for Newgarden.
O’Ward led the last 66 laps to win Sunday’s race, his second victory of the year, with Will Power taking second and Scott McLaughlin finishing third. Scott Dixon placed fourth, and Jimmie Johnson captured his first top five in IndyCar with a fifth place finish.
Following the weekend’s racing, Marcus Ericsson still leads the points standings. However, the gap has closed, and with 403 points he’s only 8 points ahead of second place driver Will Power. Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon are tied for third, 34 points out of the lead. With his win, O’Ward sits in fifth place in the IndyCar championship, only 2 points behind third and 36 points behind Ericsson in the lead.
Only 5 races remain in the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship, and with a tight points battle for the lead, every race matters. The next event is this Saturday, July 30th, at 12 PM EST on NBC in the Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a doubleheader event with the NASCAR Xfinity Series (3:30 EST, NBC).
Scott McLaughlin, the 2021 IndyCar Rookie of the Year, won Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio, becoming the second driver to win multiple races this season. The winner of the season opener at St. Petersburg led 45 of 80 laps to cruise to his second win in his fledgling IndyCar career.
Team Penske has a penchant for finding success at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a road racing crown jewel tucked away in midwestern farmland. With McLaughlin’s win on Sunday, owner Roger Penske now has 12 wins at the historic racecourse.
McLaughlin started second in the race, and ran top 5 for much of the early stages of the race. McLaren driver Pato O’Ward won the pole and led from the start. His teammate, Felix Rosenqvist, started fourth and ran as high as third before a surprise engine failure ended his day early on lap 8. O’Ward would eventually suffer the same fate as his Swedish ally, as he steadily lost power (and the lead) following a pit stop on lap 28. Kyle Kirkwood had a hard crash that brought out the caution, giving McLaughlin the lead as the race neared halfway. McLaughlin led the next 24 laps. Colton Herta grabbed the lead for 7 laps as the race neared the end, but the Andretti Autosport driver couldn’t stay out front forever due to his pit strategy, and McLaughlin reclaimed the lead when Herta pitted. In the final stint, he held off a hard-charging Alex Palou, giving him the win in the ninth race of the 2022 season.
Defending champion Palou finished in second, with Will Power taking the last podium spot in third despite a spin at the start of the race. Rinus VeeKay finished in fourth, and 6-time champion Scott Dixon rounded out the top five with his fifth place finish. Points leader Marcus Ericsson finished sixth, with Josef Newgarden placing seventh and Helio Castroneves finishing eighth. Rookie David Malukas and veteran Simon Pagenaud closed the top ten by finishing ninth and tenth, respectively.
The race was far from a snoozer- 6 cautions for 17 total laps meant that the longest green flag run was only 19 laps. Multiple championship contenders had issues- O’Ward and Rosenqvist contributed to a double retirement for the Arrow McLaren team. More riveting still was the fireworks provided by teammates Romain Grosjean, Alexander Rossi, and Colton Herta. Racing hard for position in the second half of the race, Rossi forced Grosjean off the track and into the wall, sabotaging his own line in the process. Mere laps later, Grosjean made contact with Herta, sending the young star into the gravel. Owner Michael Andretti called a team meeting postrace, which Grosjean commented on while speaking to NBC Sports.
“It wasn’t pleasant, but it was good that he did it,” Grosjean remarked. “I understand he’s frustrated and not happy with us.”
In the same interview, Grosjean called Rossi “an absolute idiot”, while also admitting responsibility for the accidental contact with Herta in an apology to his teammate.
Rossi also got penalized for making contact with Andretti’s fourth and newest driver, rookie Devlin DeFrancesco.
McLaughlin debuted in 2020 for Team Penske, making one start at St. Petersburg to get his feet wet in IndyCar. The Australian Supercars legend, winner of 3 straight championships and 56 total races across 8 full-time seasons, made the full-time jump to IndyCar last season. He won his first race at this year’s season opener in St. Petersburg; with his Mid-Ohio win, he joins teammate Josef Newgarden as the only drivers with multiple victories in 2022. Despite being in only his sophomore IndyCar season, McLaughlin feels like he’s rapidly getting used to the car.
“...my experience in terms of what I want from the car, what I'm asking from the team, what I want from the car in a pit stop, wing changes, whatever,” he said. “I'm a lot more assertive now with what I want.”
As he looks ahead to the next race in Toronto, he’s optimistic of their chances to get back in the championship fight.
“I'm excited for what's ahead,” McLaughlin said. “A win is a big thing for us, moved us forward a little bit. I don't know where it's put us in the standings, but if we keep building, I feel like Toronto is going to be a track that's going to suit me.”
The win moved McLaughlin from ninth to seventh in the points standings, past Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud. Marcus Ericsson still leads the series with a 20 point lead over second place Will Power, as the 2022 season enters the stretch run. Josef Newgarden is in third, and Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward round out the top 5 with 8 races to go.
Scott McLaughlin is only 29 years old, despite his years of success in Australian Supercars and budding IndyCar performance. However, his win on Sunday shows that he’s here to stay- and he’ll grow to stardom in the process.
B.J. McLeod, age 38, has a total of 300 career starts across NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity, and Truck Series’, with only one top 10 in that span. Many fans consider him a backmarker, or ignore him completely since he runs in the back most of the time. Despite that, he runs multiple teams, including LiveFast Motorsports, which fields the no. 78 Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series. McLeod co-owns that team with Joe Falk and former driver Matt Tifft, and he drives the no. 78 in a majority of the races on the Cup Series schedule.
LiveFast began in 2020, and the team turned their first laps in Daytona in 2021. While they may not be competing for wins yet, LiveFast and owner McLeod are optimistic that they have a long-term place in the sport- thanks in large part to the new NextGen car.
NASCAR’s Generation 7 “NextGen” car was heralded for being a cost-saving opportunity during its development and lead up to its release. Designed to feature a nearly spec chassis and body- teams would buy the parts directly from their choice manufacturer (Chevrolet, Ford, or Toyota)- the car was purpose-built to cut down on manufacturing costs for race teams, as well as scale back the amount of parts needed to repair. The car was also designed to produce better racing on track. McLeod confirmed that the plans for high quality racing have been realized.
“It's done more than live up to its expectations. NASCAR took a big chance. All the people in NASCAR and the team owners and the drivers and everybody took a big chance with this Next Gen car and it has done nothing but exceed 10 times over with some of the best racing we've ever seen.”
Despite these promises by NASCAR, there hasn’t been much evidence or confirmation that the plans for the NextGen’s financial impact holds true. McLeod says it has done what it was intended to, despite the obviously high upfront costs that come with a complete overhaul of race car design.
“It's a ton of upfront costs, but part of that is to just be said because we are at the highest level of stock car racing in the world, so we have to be ready to take that on as owners and and look towards the future and betterment of the sport and the budget for the car is absolutely better than Gen 6 or anything we've seen with before.”
McLeod thinks that the other main point of the car, to level the playing field, has also been achieved.
“You've already seen teams be able to win this year that didn't have a chance last year,” B.J. McLeod said. “You've already seen people run in the top 10 this year that couldn't run in the top 20 last year, even for a team as small as Live Fast, it's helped us be closer to where we want to be. Like last year, you look at California- we didn't run it in 2020, but I've ran there before. I think 2019 was my last time there and I was eight or nine laps down and this year we finished on the lead lap. Vegas, I think we were two laps down and that's 'cause I was a little bit, you know, extra courteous with the leaders, didn't want to mess up the race and lost an extra lap just getting out of the way. Gateway we were one lap down. You go back to 2020, we had very few races that we were just one lap down so it has done more than exceed expectations across the board.”
As an owner, McLeod sees into the day-to-day operations of his Cup Series team, including the parts and inventory. Early in the 2022 season, concerns were common that there weren’t enough parts for the NextGen car to go around- concerns that have since quieted down, but were never completely resolved. The owner of the no. 78 Ford Mustang confirmed that parts are much easier to come by now.
“It's part of being smart and proactive, and making sure that everything is covered and we've definitely been able to get what we need to be there and be secure,” he said. “And I think for taking on, post COVID, this kind of major switchover for a sport they couldn't have done any better.”
McLeod has big plans for the team even though they’re not a well-known powerhouse like Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske.
“The long term plan is to win a race without a doubt, right?” he said. “Like, the most important part is to be competitive week in and week out. And it's going to take a lot of time for us to build our team up to that.”
Despite entering the sport recently, McLeod sees a strong potential for his Cup Series team to become a competitive organization.
“Right now we're already happy with some of the results we've had this year,” B.J. McLeod said. “We’re very, very pleased with, like I said, more competitive finishes and having a little bit more speed on track than before. We have a lot of stuff that we want to clean up and make better and that just happens with prep every single week and also taking care of our partners and building that and getting that better year after year and just building up funding to be able to compete. So, it's a long road, but we're hunkered down and ready to go and just looking forward to working towards making that.”
B.J. McLeod, and LiveFast Motorsports also have a technical alliance with Motorsport Games, the developer that produces the current NASCAR Cup Series video game, NASCAR 21: Ignition. LiveFast provides information that Motorsport Games need to make their product more immersive and realistic.
The NextGen car has helped cut costs and level the playing field. For B.J. McLeod and LiveFast Motorsports, it’s been a boon for their small team’s growth. Though relatively new to NASCAR, they are continually improving with each race they run, and have a bright future ahead.
**Quotes edited for clarity**
Josef Newgarden already won a race at an oval and a street circuit this season. Entering Sunday’s race at Road America, he hadn’t completed the third requirement of the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge. The bonus, $1 million to the first driver to win a race at all 3 types of tracks that the IndyCar series races at (oval, street course, road course), is set to pay half to the team and half to the driver’s charity of choice. Newgarden won at Texas in March and Long Beach in April and now, with his win on Sunday at Road America, has completed the challenge. Team Penske receives $500,000, and 2 charities will split the remaining $500,000, SeriousFun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks Nashville. The win is Newgarden’s 23rd of his already stellar career, and moves the two-time champion to third in the points standings.
Alexander Rossi started on the pole, with Newgarden in second and Alex Palou in third. Rossi led the first 14 laps before ceding the lead at the first pit stop cycle. A flurry of cautions at the start of the race kept the field from getting into a rhythm early. Jimmie Johnson went off track in turn 3, triggering a lap 1 yellow when he couldn’t get his car running again. On the restart, Palou and teammate Marcus Ericsson made contact that sent Palou into the gravel trap. The wheels on Palou’s car were knocked out of alignment and, while he did eventually return to the racing surface, he finished in last place, 19 laps down. Palou was visibly frustrated when interviewed on TV after the wreck, with some strong words for his teammate, but Ericsson had a different view post race.
“I don't see I did anything wrong,” Ericsson said. “It was a fully race move. Might have been early in the race, but this race is a track-position race. If you get an opportunity, you need to go for it. As I said, there was nothing wrong with that move. That was clear on the TV pictures.”
Rookie Devlin DeFrancesco spun Will Power, the points leader coming into the weekend, into the wall, damaging Power’s front wing. The team for the no. 12 Verizon Chevrolet was able to put a new wing on the car after he limped it back to pit road, but he was unable to make much of a recovery and finished in 19th place.
As the field approached the first pit stop, Newgarden closed in on Rossi, the leader of the race.
Both drivers pitted on the same lap and Rossi, partially impeded by another car pitting in front of him, was unable to beat Newgarden out of the pits, a move which ended up deciding the race.
Felix Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal, and Rinus VeeKay all employed an alternate strategy, which was successful for Rosenqvist and Rahal as they saved enough fuel throughout the race to grab a top 10 finish.
Alexander Rossi continued to try to chase down Newgarden over the course of the afternoon, but was unable to make up a significant amount of time. He stayed out longer during the next pit cycle without much success. After the final pit stop of the race, Rossi did start to close in on Newgarden, cutting the lead down to under 3 seconds with 9 to go, and may have caught Newgarden if not for a late caution.
Pato O’Ward’s engine expired with 8 laps to go, bunching up the field. When they restarted with 5 to go in the race, Helio Castroneves spun onto the front stretch, forcing yet another caution flag out, setting up a 2 lap shootout to decide the race. Newgarden got a huge jump on Rossi on the restart and set sail, leaving the rest of the pack to fight amongst themselves for the remaining two spots on the podium.
Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson got around Rossi to finish second, with Rossi getting his second podium in a row with a third place finish. Romain Grosjean finished fourth, and teammate Colton Herta finished in the fifth position. Felix Rosenqvist, Scott McLaughlin, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, and rookie Christian Lundgaard rounded out the top 10.
Newgarden is the only driver with multiple wins on the season, which he says is an accomplishment given how tight the series is this year.
“Yeah, it is very difficult to win these races consistently. To be able to put multiple on the board, it's a job well done to everybody in the 2 group.”
Second place finisher Marcus Ericsson echoed Newgarden’s opinion on the competitiveness of the series.
“It's the most competitive series in the world. We have 27 cars this weekend. I think that's incredible. Out of those 27 cars, it feels like at least 15 of them can win the race if they have their day. It's really fun to be part of that. Yeah, I think it's going to be tough all year. Miss a little bit one weekend, you're P10 or P15. It means you need to be on top of things all the time. Last weekend was a good example. A bit off on strategy, didn't work our way. We managed to finish seventh. That's the results we need if we want to win the championship.”
Due to Power and Palou’s misfortunes during the race, Marcus Ericsson jumped back into the NTT IndyCar Series points lead by a commanding 27 points following Road America. Power drops down to second, with teammate and winner Josef Newgarden in third place. Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou complete the top 5. Alexander Rossi appears to have found a new gear, with 3 straight top 5s and 2 podiums in a row. He now sits in seventh in the points standings.
Newgarden admitted that he forgot about the bonus in his post race interview. But, with his third win and $1 million for his team and charities in his pocket, he definitely is aware of it now.