Paddock Buzz: Malukas Pitch-Perfect in Spirited Drive to 2nd – INDYCAR
When David Malukas wasn’t playfully singing Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway, he was freely driving to new heights in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
From the 13th starting position, the 20-year-old rookie driving the No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD raced to within a half-second of the driver who won for the third consecutive year in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline.
It wasn’t just that Malukas scored his best finish in the series, it was the heartwarming way in which he finished second to Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, a two-time series champion.
Fifth at the time of the two-hour rain delay, Malukas’ unsatisfied itch to return to the cockpit was clear. The series’ youngest driver wanted a chance to show what he and his team could do, and the night afforded them 36 final laps to do it.
With 17 laps to go, Malukas passed Pato O’Ward for third place and soon thereafter he cleared the lapped car of Colton Herta. Just then the words from the crew startled him.
“You see him in front?” Malukas remembered hearing them say on the team’s radio. “I said, ‘I just see two Penske (cars).’”
He paused to consider what he had just said.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my god, they’re Penskes,’” he said, blushing.
Malukas didn’t back down from the challenge, gaining time on second-place Scott McLaughlin with each passing lap. With six laps to go, Malukas was within a second of the No. 3 Odyssey Battery Team Penske Chevrolet and was soon closer than that.
Desperate and running out of laps, Malukas tried the outside lane with two laps to go and the bold move helped him pull alongside approaching Turn 1. That he made the pass stick was a testament to the development the Chicago native has made this season.
“He was coming, and I was a little loose,” said McLaughlin, a two-time race winner this season. “I got a bad run off of (Turns) 3-4. I took the inside line, and he went outside. The grip was still there, a hell of a move.”
Malukas only regretted not trying the high lane sooner as the grip was there due to the rain and the ensuing track drying clearing the slippery and dangerous excess rubber that had been there earlier.
“If I would have (tried that) sooner maybe we could have done something on Newgarden,” Malukas said of the driver of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. “But, I mean, overall it’s a win for me, a win for the team. They deserve that so much.”
Malukas was the star of the late going, and he had already won hearts by his mid-race performance of a 1980s song from the English synth pop band Dead or Alive. It was the USA Network broadcast team that caught him proudly singing “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).” Malukas figured he needed to explain himself.
“We had to do massive fuel saving, and it kind of ended up the whole field was just following the leader and the gap was just staying the same,” he said of the 260-lap race around the 1.25-mile oval track. “It was staying the same from behind, it was staying the same in front, and everybody had to hit these fuel targets. It ended up getting dragged out.
“Since we were going in circles the …….