But McLaughlin’s day could have been so much better than an eventual 20th place finish, after he was handed a penalty for speeding in the pit lane midway through the race.
At the time the Supercars champion was on track for a top-10 finish, but couldn’t get the car slowed down in time as he entered the pitlane, narrowly avoiding hitting the wall.
The penalty dropped him out of contention, and he finished as one of the last cars on the lead lap.
“My race, look, really happy to get the Rookie of the Year honours,” McLaughlin said.
“I would have loved to have been a little higher. Feel like I could have been in the front group. Don’t know if I would have won the race, but I certainly feel I could have been a factor in the top 10.
“Bittersweet day for me. I’m proud of everybody on the Pennzoil car, it felt good. I’ve got many more to come, hopefully.”
McLaughlin said he learned plenty from his first outing at the Brickyard.
“One mistake just eats you. You can’t make mistakes here. It genuinely needs to be a perfect day. It’s a place that really bites you when you don’t think it’s coming,” he explained.
“I just made a simple mistake. Didn’t quite pump my brake pedal up enough. Yeah, had a pretty stone cold set of rotors going into pit lane there. Couldn’t pull up.
“Thankfully no one was hurt because I came in there pretty hot.”
McLaughlin wasn’t alone in having dramas in the pits, with a spin in pitlane costing Australia’s former Indy 500 winner, Will Power.
The 40-year-old also had brake issues coming in for a scheduled pitstop, eventually coming to a halt facing backwards. His pit crew were able to get him going again, but he finished in 30th position.
Another to have problems in the pits was Graham Rahal, who lost his left-rear tyre as he exited the lane, sending him into the wall.
That had dire consequences for Conor Daly, whose 40 laps in the lead was the most of any driver for the day.
Daly had no chance to avoid Rahal’s stray tyre, the resulting damage to his front wing putting him out of contention. He was eventually classified 13th.
“We led the most laps at the #Indy500,” Daly tweeted after the race.
“What a unbelievable feeling. Ultimately a tyre fell out of the sky ruining our day. Didn’t even see it until it was too late.”
Castroneves took his fourth Indy 500 title, matching the record of Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr and AJ Foyt as the only four-time winners of the race. The 46-year-old Brazilian noted that Tom Brady (aged 43) won the Super Bowl earlier this year, while 50-year-old Phil Mickelson last week became the oldest player to win a golf major.
“I’ve run two races this year and won two races, I’d say that’s pretty good,” said Castroneves, who also won the Daytona 24 Hours in January.
With around 135,000 fans on hand, the Indy 500 was the largest sports crowd since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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