McLaughlin qualified ninth and held that position throughout the first stint, before but climbed to fourth for the middle portion of the race thanks to gains in the yellow-flag opening pit stop cycle, when he switched to alternate tyres, and a chaotic restart lap.
He stayed there until Lap 43, when his struggle for grip allowed Colton Herta to blaze past on Shoreline Drive, and the Team Penske driver chose not to fight Marcus Ericsson for fifth when they next arrived at Turn 6.
By the time he pitted again, to swap from ‘greens' back to ‘blacks' for the run home, McLaughlin had slumped to 11th and would go on to finish 10th.
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The three-time IndyCar race winner said that the need to conserve the alternates for a long middle stint meant he could not switch on those tyres as he needed to.
Between that and pick-up, he battled for pace and dropped back out of the top 10 before an Alexander Rossi crash on the penultimate lap gave him back one position.
“Honestly, it actually cooled the tyres off because I was saving fuel on them, and we just got caught in the wrong spot,” said McLaughlin.
“Ultimately, a really good start and got to P4 was looking really good in the first exchange and I think we just got the wrong end of when were on those tyres.
“I mean, ultimately, if you had a crystal ball, you'd start on greens because they are very temperature-dependent. The blacks were better to look after fuel and all that stuff, but unfortunately don't have that hindsight.
“But, I think we maximised as much as we could. It was a tough second stint because I picked up some rubber and that's where I lost all my time.
“The Sonsio Chevy was good. I definitely think we deserved more but it is what it is.”
However, the two-time champion was able to hang on to his early gains during the second stint, and then overtake McLaughlin, before greeting the chequered flag in sixth position.
The IndyCar field is now off to Indianapolis for an Open Test this Thursday and Friday (local time) in preparation for next month's ‘500'.
Competition resumes with the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on April 28-30, with practice sessions, qualifying, and the race live and ad-free on Stan Sport.