Story By: PAUL KELLY / SPEEDWAY, IN – The agonizing wait and nagging questions finally are over for Josef Newgarden.
Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden passed reigning Indianapolis 500 by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson on the last lap to snare his first career victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday at a packed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Newgarden, from Nashville, Tennessee, earned his spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy and in racing immortality in his 12th career “500” start, extending Team Penske’s event record to 19 victories in the race.
Newgarden, who started 17th, passed Ericsson on the back straightaway with an outside move just before Turn 3 and snaked down the front straightaway to victory in the No. 2 Shell Powering Progress Team Penske Chevrolet. Ericsson, driving the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing, fell just .0974 of a second short of becoming the first repeat winner since Helio Castroneves in 2002. It was the fourth-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.
“Everyone just kept asking me why I haven’t won this race,” Newgarden said. “They looked at you like you’re a failure if you don’t win it. I wanted to win it so bad. I knew we could. I knew we were capable. It’s a huge team effort, as everybody knows. I’m so glad to be here.”
After his cooldown lap, Newgarden went into the packed front grandstands to celebrate with fans. He disappeared into a joyous throng of humanity before re-emerging to reap congratulations from his family and Team Penske crew at the Yard of Bricks start-finish line.
Santino Ferrucci finished third in the No. 14 Homes For Our Troops Chevrolet. It was the best “500” finish for AJ Foyt Racing since Eliseo Salazar also finished third in 2000.
Pole sitter Alex Palou rallied from being pinned against the pit wall by Rinus VeeKay early in the race and falling deep into the 33-car field to finish fourth in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou kept the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship lead, holding a 219-199 lead over Ericsson.
2016 “500” winner Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. His teammate and 2013 “500” winner Tony Kanaan finished 16th in his 22nd and final Indy 500 start in the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, also the final INDYCAR SERIES start for the popular Brazilian.
Benjamin Pedersen was the best finisher among the four “500” rookies in the field, 21st in the No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet after being eliminated from the race in a late, multicar accident. That incident triggered the last of the event-record three competition-related red flags, all in the last 15 laps of the race.
The scintillating finish came in a one-lap showdown for victory after the third red flag. Pedersen, the No. 33 Bitnile.com Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter and the No. 24 DRR Cusick CareKeepers Chevrolet of Graham Rahal were collected in a chain-reaction collision on a Lap 196 restart after the second red flag.
After the cleanup for that incident, the remaining running cars returned to the track from pit lane on Lap 199 behind the hardtop convertible Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Pace Car, which peeled off the track at the end of that lap to create the last-lap dash for glory.
Ericsson got a big jump on the restart with the green and white flags in the air atop the flag stand and led in Turns 1 and 2 on the 2.5-mile oval. But Newgarden gained ground in Turn 2 and darted to the outside on the back straightaway with the crowd of more than 300,000 on its feet in rapture.
Newgarden powered past Ericsson and was able to clear his rival just before entering Turn 3. It appeared Ericsson looked to return the favor on the front straight, but Newgarden used the same snaking driving maneuver to hold off Ericsson that the Swede used last year to parry Pato O’Ward and earn his first “500” victory. Today was only the third time in Indy 500 history a driver used a last-lap pass to win.
“I was just trying to stay locked in,” Newgarden said. “I was emotional the last 10 laps because I knew we were in a position to fight for this win at the end. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew it was going to come to some last-lap shootout like it always is these days, which is exciting but stressful for us.”
Newgarden only led five laps, taking the top spot for the first time for one lap during pit stop cycles on Lap 157. He climbed into the lead for the second time, with all pit stops done, on Lap 193 when a crash between the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet of Pato O’Ward, the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of 2019 “500” winner Simon Pagenaud and the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet of rookie Augustin Canapino triggered the second red flag.
Ericsson grabbed the lead from Newgarden on a breathtaking three-wide restart also involving Ferrucci on Lap 196 that was truncated quickly by the incident involving Carpenter, Pedersen and Rahal, setting up the final showdown.
Swedish driver Ericsson expressed dismay with the late red flag and one-lap showdown, hoping instead the race would end under caution with him out front.
“I think we did everything right today,” Ericsson said. “I’m proud of the No. 8 crew and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. I think I did everything right behind the wheel. I did an awesome last restart. I think I caught Josef completely off guard and got the gap and kept the lead into Turn 1.
“I just couldn’t hold it on the back. I was flat. I just couldn’t hold it.”
O’Ward led a race-high 39 laps, one of 14 different drivers to lead today. There were 52 lead changes, the third-highest total in Indianapolis 500 history.
Newgarden will split $20,000 with Team Penske and his chosen charities, SeriousFun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks Nashville, for his victory as part of the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge.
The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race is the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit presented by Lear on Sunday, June 4 on a new circuit on the streets of Detroit. Live coverage starts at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.