Emotions were running high for Scott McLaughlin on trackside of the Newcastle 500 on Sunday evening as thoughts of family, fulfilled promises, pent-up frustration and personal redemption spilled out all at once.
The 25-year-old had finally claimed the Supercars championship he so cruelly missed out on in the same spot just 12 months earlier and the time in between had only served to hardening and maturing him enough to realise his dream and keep a promise he made to his late grandmother.
“I’ve never had dreams of going to Formula One or anything like that,” he said. “I dreamt of being on this trophy and the Bathurst trophy.
“It’s a pretty emotional day for my family. I promised my gran, before she passed away, that I’d do it for her, and I did it.
“It’s just disbelief. You work for this your whole life. My gran and my mum and dad have been massive influences. Just thinking about the redemption part – I just couldn’t believe it.”
McLaughlin was pushed all the way by Shane van Gisbergen but that rivalry came to a head just hours before the final race of the season, when the DJR Team Penske man was awarded his rival’s victory in Race 30 following a refuelling regulations breach.
That turned his slender two-point lead into a cushier 53-point one – not that it did anything for his nerves on the pressure he felt on himself.
“If anything it put more pressure on myself, I had more to lose,” McLaughlin admitted as memories of losing a 78-point lead over Jamie Whincup the year before began to creep into his mind. “It was kind of similar to where we were last year. I was like ‘oh my God, is this Déjà vu?’
“I was thinking about redemption after last year. I’ve just tried to learn from it.”
In winning, McLaughlin wrote his name into the history of a racing dynasty with Team Penske as added the final piece to their motorsport domination this years, having claimed the NASCAR title, won the Indianapolis 500 for a record 17th time and celebrated their 500th win across all categories.
Roger Penske said the Supercars championship was the one missing from his cabinet and was in attendance at Newcastle to see the Kiwi finally achieve that for him.
“The first thing I got taught by Roger was ‘let’s turn this negative into a positive’ and that’s what we did,” McLaughlin said. “That’s the big thing just trying to realise that I’ve won Penske a championship, add it to their tally. I’m struggling for words, I’m blown away by it.
“It’s pretty special. The support that the American guys have given us… every time we go over there to watch a race they know what we’re doing. We’re not just the little guy down under, we’re fully entrenched in the team.”
It was a fitting farewell for the Ford Falcon as well, it’s 17th championship victory completed by the No.17 car before the Mustang takes over from next season.
And make no mistake, McLaughlin will be there to try to make sure it’s first championship victory will be achieved by the No.1 car next season.