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Scott McLaughlin at Barber

Source: Karl Zemlin/Penske Entertainment / other

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It was the week from hell for Team Penske given the team’s turmoil over accusations of cheating as it relates to the “manipulation” of their overtake system at St. Pete.

Scott McLaughlin was able to silence the critics and put the incident behind the team on Sunday as he executed a bold and brilliant pit strategy to take the checkered flag in the Children’s of Alabama IndyCar Grand Prix.

“We just had to keep rolling, We knew our job, so proud of the execution,” said McLaughlin. “Execution is our word. It’s a good win. One of my best drives.”

McLaughlin, who started on pole for the race, was one of a handful of drivers that despite several cautions that threw some obstacles into their pit strategy, stuck to their plan to stop three times.

The first caution happened on Lap 7 when Pato O’Ward, credited with the win at St. Petersburg after Josef Newgarden’s disqualification, got into the back of Pietro Fittipaldi.

A handful of drivers chose to pit at that juncture, but McLaughlin chose to stay out and continued to push the pace to gain a gap on these drivers who chose to save fuel on the two-stop strategy. One of those drivers was Alex Palou, who seemed to have the race in hand after getting to the lead after pitting on Lap 30.

Planning to stop only one more time, fuel saving was the name of the game for Palou.

That was not the case for McLaughlin, who pitted again on Lap 47 surrendering track position, but what made things tough for him was a caution a few laps prior when Alexander Rossi lost a rear wheel. This seemingly put everyone on the same pit strategy, but McLaughlin (and crew) stuck to their guns. Three-stops, all out.

While the drama was unfolding, the life of a mannequin became a big concern. Seriously, a mannequin. “Georgina”, a mannequin hanging under a pedestrian walkway over the course fell just off the racing line and was decapitated by one of the cars going by. No caution was thrown immediately, but it was certainly an odd happening.

Georgina was dealt with on Lap 55 when another caution came out for when Sting Ray Robb lost his steering wheel and slammed into the wall. This caution allowed the two-stop strategy drivers, Palou among them, to pit. But, this moved McLaughlin, teammate Will Power, and Linus Lundqvist to the front.

When the green flag waved again, McLaughlin needed to push hard and open up a gap to Palou. By the time McLaughlin made his final stop with 25 laps left, he opened up enough of a gap to keep the lead after pitting.

Even with a late caution for Christian Rasmussen spinning and stalling, McLaughlin was able keep his foot to the floor and outrun the rest of the field en route to his fifth career IndyCar win.

“I knew our pace. I knew we could control it,” McLaughlin said. “We just needed to make sure we didn’t make a mistake and we didn’t.”

Power held on for second place. Hold on, he certainly had to as Lundqvist was also good on fuel and screamed back for his first podium finish ever.

“I’m extremely happy with a podium. It’s been a little rough for me, but the team did an amazing job,” Lundqvist said. I just listened to whatever they told me to do. They told me to ‘be patient and your time will come,’ and it did.”

As the field shook out, the win jumped McLaughlin from dead last in the championship standings (after being DQ’d from St. Pete) to ninth place.

Colton Herta started 15th and finished eighth, which now puts him one-point ahead of Palou to lead the point standings for the first time in his career.

The series will take a couple of weeks off before everyone moves into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Month of May. It’ll be kicked off with the Sonsio Grand Prix on May 14th.