Drivers Debate Final Red Flag Call in 107th Indianapolis 500

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – To throw a red flag or not to throw a red flag, that is the question.

Sunday’s 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 was halted by a red flag on three separate occasions, but the last of that trilogy has become a talking point amid Josef Newgarden’s maiden win in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Following two stoppages for multi-car crashes at lap 185 and 193, the field lined up for a restart with four laps to go with Newgarden in the lead and defending race winner Marcus Ericsson in second. Ericsson was able to get the jump on Newgarden by the time they reached the start/finish line to take the green, but at the same time a number of cars at the tail end of the field collided, bringing out the caution.

With only four circuits remaining to crown a winner, the debate raged, finish the remaining laps under caution, handing Ericsson back-to-back Indy 500 victories, or throw a red flag and set up a shootout for the win?

Similar to the way the 2022 Indy 500 ended, after two circuits under yellow, the call came down from the powers that be that the race would be stopped under red once more to preserve a green flag finish for the fans.

The only difference this time is there would be just one lap at speed to decide it all instead of the two laps the field had at its disposal last season.

This time around, Ericsson was on the losing end of the decision as Newgarden was able to dispatch him on the backstretch of the final lap en route to breaking his Indy 500 winless streak.

Afterwards, Ericsson was incensed about the call, blasting it for being an “unfair and dangerous end to the race.”

“I think it wasn’t enough laps to go to do what we did. I don’t think it’s safe to go out of the pits on cold tires for a restart when half the field is sort of still trying to get out on track when we go green.

“I don’t think it’s a fair way to end the race. I don’t think it’s a right way to end the race. So, I can’t agree with that.

“It is what it is. I just have to deal with it. I think I did everything I could. I did an awesome last restart. I caught Josef by surprise and kept the lead into 1, but it wasn’t enough, so for sure it’s hard to swallow.”

Ericsson added that if they were bound and determined to throw a red to keep the race alive, he would have liked to have seen it thrown earlier instead of depleting laps under caution and waiting until they did to throw it.

“They should have called it earlier,” he said. “If they wanted red, they should have called red earlier. I think when they kept it going, then I think they should have called it.

“But I’m sure Josef doesn’t agree with that and thinks that way, but that’s just the way I thought. I thought it was too tight to do the last red.”

As expected, Newgarden was happy with the call, given he was able to use it to his advantage to win the race.

“I’m happy they did it to give a good finish,” Newgarden said. “Obviously if I was in Marcus’ situation, I would have said, yeah, just end it.

“There’s so many different ways that this could have played out and you could have said this is fair or that’s fair. I’ve seen it all. At this point I’m just really thankful they did it the way they did. I’m glad I had the car. I don’t really care.

“I’ve seen a lot of situations where it didn’t go our way. Today went our way, and I’ll take it. I’ll take it all day.”

Tony Kanaan, who finished 16th in the final Indy 500 of his career on Sunday, defended the call to throw the red, noting that it while it may not be the most favorable thing among some of the drivers, it was the best call for the entertainment value of the race.

“It’s funny because obviously like you have guys like Santino and Marcus that are mad, and you have Josef that’s happy. But we need to think about the show,” Kanaan said.

“The biggest complaint we have every year was we shouldn’t finish a race under the yellow. That’s going to hurt someone. Actually 33 guys are pissed right now and one guy is happy. That’s the reality.

“Could have they called it earlier? Yes. Could have, should have, would have, but we ended under green, and that’s what the fans kept asking us every time.”

The veteran of 22 starts in the Indy 500 speaks from experience, with his own win in 2013 coming under caution.

“I won under yellow, and everybody hated it at some point. Easy for me to say because I’m not in his shoes.”

The crowd of more than 300,000 in attendance were certainly in favor of the call, roaring in agreement when it was made, which Kanaan referenced as well.

“I mean, look at this place. Do we really want to finish under yellow with all those people out there? For me, it was the right call.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.