Malukas dazzles the run across the field and against Penskes

MADISON, Ill. – Josef Newgarden saw the checkered flag pop out of his windshield as the hard-charging rookie sprinted further and further into his rear-view mirror.

David Malukas was coming fast for the leaders, seemingly out of nowhere late on Saturday night after a long rain delay and a tense race.

The 20-year-old was flying and dashed outside and around Scott McLaughlin for second place. Then he set his sights on the final lap on Newgarden, the two-time IndyCar champion so far unable to take control of the championship race.

Newgarden thought, “Wow, this kid is hungry.”

Alas, Malukas ran out of time on the 1.25 mile oval outside St. Louis. He chose McLaughlin, and if there had been one more lap, Malukas might have taken his first IndyCar win.

He is still learning oval racing, although his results show he is studying quickly. His 16th-place finish at the Indianapolis 500 was his lowest of five ovals on the schedule; his second-place finish on Saturday night was his best of his first IndyCar season and his first career podium.

And yet he wonders if a rookie mistake cost him a chance to beat Newgarden for the win at Gateway.

On new tires for the last run of the night, Malukas waited two laps to test the upper groove at Gateway. His car like a rocket in the top lane, he passed McLaughlin on the outside. Despite running out of time to catch Newgarden, Malukas was closing in quickly when Newgarden earned their series-best fifth win of the season.

What took him so long to try the outer way?

“It was a bit of a shame that I did it so late. But I guess rookie season, rookie stuff,” Malukas said. “I’ll put it in the back of my brain and remember it for next time.”

It wasn’t his only mistake of the night: Malukas was reprimanded by McLaughlin for mispronouncing his last name. It’s Muh-GLOCK’-luhn, McLaughlin said, and there’s no soft h.

Either way, second place was just as good as Saturday night’s win for Malukas. He even got to celebrate with champagne when Newgarden graciously let the minor Malukas spray the real stuff instead of the grape juice he was given.

“Why didn’t they give me the real stuff? It’s not fun,” Malukas said. “Maybe I can just tell them I’m going to shut my mouth, I don’t know.”

Just three months ago, he was on the verge of losing Indianapolis 500 top rookie honors to Jimmie Johnson, who finished the race below Malukas but was rewarded for both a breathtaking speed show during qualifying and for his role as ambassador for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.

Malukas fans were outraged and, after posting his own 200+ mph marks in practice, as well as finishing the highest among Indy 500 rookies, Malukas himself went asked how he lost top rookie to 46-year-old Johnson.

Once the drama died down from social media, Malukas returned to big racing for tiny Dale Coyne Racing.

He finished eighth in the second race of Iowa’s doubles last month and is ranked 16th in the standings, ahead of Indianapolis 500 winners Helio Castroneves and teammate Takuma Sato, along with the rest of the rookie class.

Newgarden praised Malukas after the race and said Malukas, a Lithuanian-American from the Chicago area, could probably get a little more aggressive. Newgarden is three points behind Team Penske teammate Will Power with two races to go, but he didn’t worry about the potential risks of taking on a rookie with Saturday night’s victory on the line.

“When you see rookies, I think you’re definitely a little more cautious or reserved, or at least guess what you think you should be doing,” Newgarden said. “I would give Malukas a lot of respect. He was probably one of the cleanest signings I’ve ever seen. He was almost too respectful.”

Malukas admitted to both straying from Penske cars during practice and also getting a bit starry-eyed when he found himself racing Newgarden and McLaughlin.

His engineer radioed that Malukas was about to sight the race leaders, then he spotted them navigating Turns 1 and 2. It took him a moment to realize that “Oh my God , it’s Penskes. I’m going behind Penskes right now. It’s crazy.'”

Malukas rooted for the Penske team as a kid and says he stayed away when he came to IndyCar this season: “Every time in practice, every time they passed, I always let them pass. Man,” he said.

And so he had to pull himself together as he chased the duo.

“I was trying so hard not to be nervous. I mean, I was nervous, but I was trying so hard not to get overexcited and do something stupid,” Malukas said. “It’s definitely intimidating when there are two Penskes in front of you.”

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