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Newgarden goes back-to-back in thrilling, rain-delayed Indy 500 win over O’Ward

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Team Penske's Josef Newgarden celebrates by drinking the milk after winning the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (Credit: James Black/Penske Entertainment)

Only four times in the 108-year history of the Indy 500 has the race been decided with a pass for the lead on the final lap.

After Sunday’s stop-and-start, delayed-four-hours race, two of those wins belong to Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Dueling with Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren, the Nashville native found himself behind the young Mexican driver with just two turns to go on Lap 200. As O’Ward started “snaking” down the backstretch, Newgarden gained momentum and pulled alongside the five-time IndyCar race winner. In Turn 3, it looked like two would careen into the outer wall together, but Newgarden found grip, and pulled ahead in one of the most daring moves you’ll ever see at the Indianapolis.

I don’t think it works unless you’re racing someone like Pato,” said Newgarden. “It’s not that Pato didn’t race me hard, he just raced me clean. That move doesn’t work unless you’re racing someone like that. It just doesn’t. It’s very easy that that doesn’t work out.

Newgarden pulled a gap and didn’t allow O’Ward to catch up down the frontstretch. With the win, he becomes the first driver to go back-to-back at Indianapolis since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002. Sunday’s victory is also Roger Penske’s 20th as a team owner, the most of any in Indy 500 history.

Describing Sunday’s race as a “race of attrition” would be the understatement of all understatement. 46 laps were run under caution, which gave the race a true red light, green light feeling. It set an Indy 500 record for number of different drivers to lead at least one lap at 16, and the lead changed hands 49 times. It was almost reminiscent of the chaos of Newgarden’s win last year, which featured three late red flags and an unprecedented one-lap shootout to end the race.

The difference this year was a rain delay that pushed the start of the race back four hours. The finish ended up being the first race in the history of the 500 to end under the sunset.

We knew there was plenty of time to get a full distance race in, so we just executed the race plan that we had talked about on Saturday.”

– Jonathan Diuguid, Interim Race Strategist for Josef Newgarden

To add to that difficulty, Newgarden had to battle multiple fellow Indy winners. He passed Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi in the late stages of the race, two former winners who finished third and fourth, respectively.

While his two teammates, Scott McLaughlin and Will Power, ended up out of contention, Newgarden stayed with the pace the entire day. The 32-year-old ended up leading 26 laps, second only to McLaughlin, who led 66 – mostly in the first half of the race. For a long time, it seemed like this year’s 500 was McLaughlin’s to lose. But a clutch issue put the Kiwi behind and led to an eventual sixth-place finish for the record-setting polesitter.

Josef Newgarden celebrates in the stands after winning the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500. (Credit: Karl Zemlin/Penske Entertainment)

For Newgarden and Team Penske, this win was needed. After a push-to-pass scandal rocked the IndyCar world last month, team morale was down. Not only did the team forfeit Newgarden’s win from the season opener at St. Petersburg, but they forfeited their reputation amongst fellow drivers and team owners. This along with online pressure on the team was shown in full force when Newgarden broke down in a press conference at Barber Motorsports Park in April. Earlier this month, the team announced that they were suspending multiple senior team officials, including team president Tim Cindric – who also serves as Newgarden’s race strategist week-to-week.

But for Newgarden and team owner Roger Penske, those hardships were nowhere to be found as the two-time series champion crawled through a hole in the catch fence and sprinted down the aisles of the frontstretch grandstands, arms raised in the air and fans mobbing him for the second consecutive year.

I think it’s an experience that it’s got to either break you or tough you up, and for me, that’s all I’ll say about it. We’ve been moving forward. We’ve never worked together more as a group than this weekend, and I thought that was difficult to do,” said Newgarden.

This is the most tight-knit team I’ve ever seen. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of it because it’s such a well-conjoined group. Everybody works so well together. It’s fun to show up here. It’s fun to go to work.

With a second Indy 500 win, JoNew joins a club with some legendary members. Legends of the series like Takuma Sato, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dan Wheldon, and Arie Luyendyk each have two victories at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and those are just the four most recent ones. Going further back, you can add names like Bill Vukovich, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Al Unser Jr. to that list.

Heartbreak for Pato

On the other end of things, O’Ward and the Arrow McLaren camp had their hearts shattered. After a pass into Turn 1 on the final lap, it looked like IndyCar’s most popular driver had his maiden Indy 500 win in the bag. The crowd’s excitement could be heard over the cars on track every time O’Ward made a pass. He admitted the heartbreak in his post-race press conference:

I feel very proud of what I did today. I really do. It’s just after all that work and all those very risky kinds of choices that I had to make in order to put myself in that position, , it just stings to not be able to just finish it. But it is what it is.

The Monterrey native has proven himself to be a contender at Indianapolis already – today was his fourth top 10 and second runner-up finish at the 500 in just six attempts. But it still remains to be seen whether or not the McLaren driver can pull through and become an Indy 500 winner.

At the end of the day, I hope I put smiles on kids’ faces and people that were here out to support us. I hope that they go home tonight happy with the show that we gave them because I feel like it was definitely not a boring race,” said O’Ward after his runner-up finish.

We had to fight for our result today harder than I’ve ever had to fight for it, and I think that’s why it’s just that much more emotional, because I put everything into today.

Next Race

  • Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix
  • May 31 – June 2
  • Streets of Detroit – Detroit, Michigan, USA
  • 2023 Winner: Alex Palou
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About author
Born and raised in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Gabe joined the TCF team in 2023 to cover the IndyCar Series. He currently studies Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University. You can follow him on Twitter @gabe_perrin.
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