Scott McLaughlin was upbeat despite coming up just short of his sixth top 10 finish this season when a late race mistake saw him end up 12th in the Grand Prix of Monterey.
The 28-year-old showed promise in the penultimate round of the IndyCar Series, topping Practice 2 at the Laguna Seca circuit.
McLaughlin went on to qualify 16th before making headway on the opening lap to 11th.
From there, the Team Penske pilot looked on course for a top 10 finish, only to overshoot his pit box during the final round of stops.
That dropped him back to 13th at the completion of the pit stop sequence, eventually passing six-time series winner Scott Dixon on the last lap for 12th.
“We should have been seventh or eighth, but I slid through my pit box which was the only mistake I made,” said McLaughlin.
“But that did cost us three or four spots. It is what it is. But we have good speed and I passed over 20 cars. It was a lot of fun.”
Earlier in the weekend, McLaughlin lamented a communication error during qualifying.
The rookie pitted too early during the first phase when he could have pushed on for another lap, ultimately resulting in him missing the cut for the second round of qualifying.
Nevertheless, McLaughlin was buoyed by his pace heading into the final round of the series on the streets of Long Beach.
“The momentum that we have now in terms of where I am with the car and all that sort of stuff, so I feel like we are making great progress,” he said.
“I feel good. I think we are in a good place with the car. Now I have one more race at Long Beach to try and put a good result up on the board for the team going into the off season.”
With one round remaining, McLaughlin in 13th in the points holds sway over 15th placed Romain Grosjean in the Rookie of the Year title chase.
The 2021 IndyCar Series comes to a close on the streets of Long Beach on September 27 (AEST).