Rewarded with a long day of golfing after blitzing the field last weekend in Portland with a pole and a crushing win for Team Penske, Scott McLaughlin found himself in a state of gratitude and exhaustion by Tuesday evening.

The 36 holes came after a long night of celebrating his most recent victory, and on Wednesday, the announcement of his new long-term contract with Team Penske, where he’s become a key figure in its future, would follow. It’s busy times for McLaughlin, but also the best of times as the transplanted New Zealander has earned his way into a starring role within The Captain’s most prized racing program.

“It’s probably my most important contract I’ve ever signed,” McLaughlin said.

In only his second IndyCar season, McLaughlin’s reached heights that seemed unfathomable as he was rounding out his rookie campaign last September.

Runs to ninth at Portland, 12th at Laguna Seca, and 11th at Long Beach said he was making progress in the No. 3 Chevy, but there were no indicators he’d return for his sophomore year and put three wins on the board – more than any other IndyCar driver, with exception to his teammate Josef Newgarden — and vie for the championship.

Having his future secured has also helped McLaughlin to produce at his highest level to date; fourth in July’s Indy road course race is his worst result over the last five races.

“It’s really exciting in that regard,” he said. “I don’t have to talk about contracts or worry about that sort of stuff, I can just focus on the job at hand. And I definitely think it’s helped me focus the last few events and get right. You know, I think you always have the worst-case scenario ; I always work like that. And it’s awesome just to have that nailed down and to stop me thinking about the worst case scenario. But I guess that’s just how I’ve always worked.

“Super proud. I just love driving for The Captain, and all our partners and I have a lot of great support within our group. And working with Benny (race engineer Ben Bretzman)… I have a lot of great friends now at the team. It’s just exciting. I think we’ve got a long way ahead of us, especially with the way that we’re finishing this year.”

McLaughlin’s gone from being a wide-eyed rookie in a four-car team with teammates who were all champions or Indy 500 winners to being a big contributor to the downsized three-car operation where he, Newgarden, and championship leader Will Power can win on any weekend. Together, Penske’s IndyCar trio have forged the kind of chemistry that is rarely found in larger teams where individual goals can outweigh the needs of the organization as a whole.

“I think my pace and the confidence in the race car from myself has certainly helped a lot,” he said. “And I feel like I’m pushing those guys a little bit more. They’re learning things off me now, which was just one-way traffic last year. And obviously, me and Benny are working together really well. But yeah, I think we just have a really good, respectable relationship, all of us.

“Obviously, me and Josef get along very well, we’re good friends, but at the same time, we want to rip each other’s heads off and beat each other all the time. But that’s all out in the open. There’s no BS. It’s just like, ‘I want to smash you, I’m going to hate when you beat me, but I’m going to be happy because it’s going to be pushing me.’ And I think between the three of us, we’ve got a very competitive mentality. But you’re grateful for it. That’s certainly how I feel. And I feel very privileged to have these two – they’re the two top IndyCar drivers in the series.

“Josef’s is very good at certain things. Will’s very good at certain things. I’m good at certain things, and we put it all together, and whoever puts it together the most, normally, is right up front, close to winning. And I think that’s been good for the whole team, because we’ve all shared some success this year. It’s a very solid relationship, a good working relationship with colleagues and like in any work force. You need that, and I think that’s what we’ve got.”

Another fun aspect of McLaughlin’s arrival is how deeply entrenched he’s become in the greater IndyCar community through active engagement with fans through social media and the formation of the Bus Bros videos he does with Newgarden that have quickly become a favorite among the series’ diehard followers.

Two years ago, McLaughlin was a curious experiment. Two years later, leaving the 2022 season, he’s become one of us.

“You pinch yourself,” he said. “It’s a hobby I’ve into a profession and every day is just a dream. You just live your life, have fun, and get after it. I love taking people along for the journey. I’m gonna be around for a lot longer now. So excited.”

Catch the full conversation with McLaughlin here: