Sports Journalism Blog

By Austin Lawton | @AJLawton1

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — After four-hour rain delay and an intense, emotional battle that went down to the last lap, Josef Newgarden won his second straight Indy 500, giving car owner Roger Penske his 20th Indy 500 victory. The victory was also Newgarden’s 30th overall victory in IndyCar.

Newgarden earned a hard-fought victory after battling with Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward. Both drivers swapped the lead five times over the last seven laps. O’Ward would pass Newgarden to take the white flag and control the lead for half of the lap. In an unprecedented early-evening finish, as both drivers snaked down the back straight, Newgarden made a daring pass on the outside, into turn three, just as he had done last year. This time he made history and celebrated in the stands once again, while O’Ward experienced the heartbreak of Indianapolis, finishing second.

“I just tried to keep peace as much of the race as I could, I feel like I did,” O’Ward said in the post-race press conference. “Really prepared to open the doors to ultimately have a chance to win at the end of this, and yeah, it’s just heartbreaking. Two corners short.”

Newgarden becomes the first driver to win back-to-back races since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002, a feat now accomplished by only six drivers. Newgarden becomes the 11th driver to have two Indy 500 victories.

The win comes after a tumultuous start to the season for Newgarden and his team. After the Grand Prix of Long Beach, Newgarden and his Penske teammates — Will Power and Scott McLaughlin — were found to have altered the Push to Pass overtake system and using it to gain a competitive advantage on restarts during the opening round of the IndyCar season at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Newgarden, who won that race, was stripped of the victory and lost all of the points that came with it. McLaughlin was disqualified as well, with Power docked 10 points, after a conclusion that he did not gain a competitive advantage. The three Penske teams were each fined $25,000.

Team Penske suspended Tim Cindric, president of the team and strategist for Newgarden, and Luke Mason, Newgarden’s engineer, for the entire month of May. Replacing Cindric and Mason were Johnathan Diuguid and Raul Prados, both earning their first Indy 500 wins this year.

“This team earned this win the entire month,” Newgarden said. “They’ve earned it the entire year. You have no idea how much effort has gone into this. It’s every individual. That is what Indy exemplifies. It exemplifies the team. This team just has no shortage of excellence across the board. I would step into any one of these cars thankfully. You don’t have to be on one program. They’re all great. I think they all contributed to this win, so it was a big team day. I enjoyed driving today. That’s how I started this year. That’s what I wanted to get back to, and a very, very gratifying race to go through with this group.”

Attrition became a major factor in the race. The start was delayed due to severe weather, with fans instructed to evacuate the grandstands at 11:15 a.m. The decision was made that the race would end no later than 8:15 p.m. The green flag came at 4:44 p.m. and the race ended at 7:43 p.m as the sun was setting beyond Georgetown Road, making it the latest an Indy 500 has finished.

A wreck on the first lap set the tone for things to come. Meyer Shank Racing rookie Tom Blomqvist went low into turn one, hit the curb and spun out, collecting 2022 Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson. As both drivers made contact, the No. 66 of Blomqvist sent Ericsson airborne. As Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver Pietro Fittipaldi went low to avoid the crash, he was tagged by Callum Ilott of Arrow McLaren. Ilott tapped wheels with the No.30 of Fittipaldi, which sent him into the wall. Ericsson, Blomqvist, and Fittipaldi were all out after one corner.

Within the first 100 laps of the race, seven Honda cars experienced issues. Chip Ganassi Racing rookie driver Marcus Armstrong’s engine blew up with on Lap six. Katherine Legge, driving for Dale Coyne Racing, lost her engine on Lap 22. Another CGR driver, rookie Linus Lundqvist, spun coming out of turn one on Lap 28. On Lap 56, MSR driver Felix Rosenqvist’s engine blew.  A favorite coming into the race, Colton Herta, spun in turn two, continued on after having his towed to the garage, but ultimately retired on Lap 170.

On Lap 107, the No. 23 of Ryan Hunter-Reay spun out after attempting to pass Scott Dixon, who would go on to finish third. Hunter-Reay touched tires with Dixon and did a 360-degree spin in front of on-coming cars.

“There was no room to go, and then I was kind of looking to the right,” Dixon said.  “Just saw at the last minute when he hit me, but he was pretty deep in the grass at that point. I hope he’s okay. I haven’t looked at the replay yet to see if there was anything I could have done different apart from just pulling out of his way, but that’s not the way you race.”

NASCAR star and champion Kyle Larson ran well inside the top 10 all day but a speeding penalty on the last round of pit stops put him a lap down and would ultimately see him finish in 18th place. As soon as the race was over, Larson hopped into an SUV on pit road, and took a flight to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600, which was already in progress.

“I would definitely love to be back next year,” Larson told NBC. “I feel like I learned a lot throughout the race. I definitely feel good about knowing about what I would need for the balance of the car, to help with runs. I smoked the left front into the green flag stop and killed our opportunity. We’ll go hop onto the jet and see if I can’t get into the 600 somehow.”