Josef Newgarden backs it up with second Indy 500 win

Josef Newgarden scored his second career Indy 500 win, and he managed to do it as the defending race winner. It’s the first time any driver has scored back-to-back wins in the Indy 500 in 22 years, and it earns Newgarden a long-lived $440,000 prize from Borg Warner.

“Unbelievable. I love this crowd. I got to always go in the crowd if we win here, I’m always doing that,” Newgarden said after getting out of his car and celebrating in the grandstands with the fans.

The win makes up for the emotional turmoil earlier this season. After winning at the St. Petersburg street circuit to start the year, McLaughlin was disqualified for cheating for using the Push to Pass system illegally. Newgarden tearfully maintained his innocence.

After an internal investigation, complicated by the fact that team owner Roger Penske also owns the IndyCar series itself in addition to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Team Penske team president Tim Cindric as well as Newgarden’s race strategist and two of his engineers were suspended for a period including the Indy 500. That meant Newgarden was racing without his usual team.

“Absolutely. They can say whatever they want after this point, I don’t care anymore,” Newgarden said. “I’m just so proud of the team, they crushed it… That’s the way I wanted to win the thing, right there.”

Every winner needs a runner-up, and it was a devastated Pato O’Ward who ended up in that position. The Arrow McLaren driver battled Newgarden late in the race, trading the lead in the final dozen laps when the final green-flag pit cycle worked itself out. Newgarden had previously faced a challenge from O’Ward’s teammate Alexander Rossi.

“I’ve got to give it up to Pato,” Newgarden said of the final battle. “He’s a really clean driver. It takes two to make that pass.”

That was little consolation for O’Ward, however. O’Ward made his move just before the start of the final lap, but that was too early and gave Newgarden the chance to get the lead on the backstretch and O’Ward couldn’t get the draft enough to catch back up.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” O’Ward admitted. “I’m proud of the work we did today. We recovered, we went back, we went forward, we went back.

“Just so close again. So… close,” he said. “Just so painful when you put so much into it and then… two corners short. It’s this place, isn’t it? It owes me nothing.”

The popular Mexican driver said he was able to hear the roar of the crowd urging him on, and he can take solace in their support.

“I did. I heard it,” O’Ward said. “I love them. They’ve really made Indianapolis a home for me.”

Scott Dixon finished third behind the battle, with Alexander Rossi and Alex Palau rounding out the top five. Scott McLaughlin, Kyle Kirkwood, Santino Ferrucci, Rinus VeeKay, and Conor Daly all earned top-ten finishes.

Polesitter Scott McLaughlin led plenty of laps throughout the beginning and middle of the race, but a clutch issue ultimately took his distinctive bright yellow No. 3 machine out of winning contention.

“Yeah, we had clutch trouble all day, unfortunately,” McLaughlin said. “And that’s just how it is, but ultimately I’m just glad for the fans that we got the full race in.”

NASCAR regular Kyle Larson provided a story to follow throughout the Month of May. He managed to qualify on the second row for the race. However, in an early restart, Larson experienced heavy wheelspin, losing speed, and then shifted too many times up to third gear, letting the pack fly around him and falling outside the top fifteen.

“I would definitely love to be back next year,” Larson said of his experience.

“I feel like I made a couple of mistakes, early with the restart, not sure what I did wrong there but I somehow got myself into third [gear],” he acknowledged. “But I feel like I did a really good job on the restarts and was able to learn a lot.”

It was pit road that ultimately took him out of contention. Coming in hard trying to make up time in green-flag stops with about 70 laps to go, Larson locked up and carried too much speed onto pit road, earning himself a pass-through penalty for speeding.

“Obviously I smoked a left front or something into the green-flag stop and killed our opportunity to have a good finish, so pretty upset with myself. Just could’ve executed a better race… bummed at myself, but huge thank you to Arrow McLaren, Hendrick Motorsports,” Larson concluded.

Just like the Monaco Grand Prix earlier that day, the race started with a big crash on lap one. The wreck took out previous winner Marcus Ericsson. Following that, the race featured a series of cautions, mostly for single-car issues. 

Honda drivers fared poorly in the opening laps, with multiple Honda engines blowing up, including Katherine Legge, the only female driver in the field.

Typical for the Indy 500, multiple strategies dominated the day, compounded by the wrecks that allowed drivers to pit under caution. All that made for a race record for the most different leaders in Indy 500 history.

Owen Johnson