Late-race St. Pete leaders Scott McLaughlin, Romain Grosjean crash in season-opener

Nathan Brown
Indianapolis Star

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Romain Grosjean hadn't won a race of any kind for 12 years, as he stepped into his pole-winning car Sunday on the streets of St. Pete, and he knew it.

With that in mind, the Swiss-born Frenchman, in a contract year with Andretti Autosport, risked it all to try and overtake Scott McLaughlin on Lap 72 as the pair drag-raced down the straight coming out of Turn 3. With neither willing to budge, McLaughlin on the inside and Grosjean hoping the Penske driver would blink and allow him to fly around the outside, the pair knocked wheels and both ended up in the tire barrier that just minutes prior had collected Jack Harvey, Rinus VeeKay and Kyle Kirkwood.

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McLaughlin was able to continue after repairs in pitlane, but he received an avoidable contact penalty for the incident. Grosjean's day was done in 18th.

"I think what happened was pretty obvious on TV, so I'm not going to elaborate on that," Grosjean told NBC Sports. "I'm very, very disappointed, and I hope that rules will be put in place. I'm really annoyed that you're talking to me while the race is going on."

Grosjean led the first 31 laps of the race until he made his first green flag pitstop, handing the lead over to McLaughlin, who then pitted on Lap 35. When Conor Daly caused a yellow on Lap 36 just as race-leader Scott Dixon pulled into the pits, McLaughlin held the lead over Grosjean.

The Andretti Autosport driver shadowed McLaughlin for the next stint, hanging around just under 1-second back until pitting on Lap 70. McLaughlin then followed suit the following lap, and his dart out of the pits, just barely in front of Grosjean, kicked off their race into Turn 4 that turned over the lead of the race to Pato O'Ward.