By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – The weight is finally lifted.
After Josef Newgarden accomplished almost everything he could have dreamed of in his NTT IndyCar Series career, only the Indianapolis 500 had eluded him – until today.
A wild end to Sunday’s 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing saw three red flags in the last 16 laps to set up a one lap shootout to determine who would come away with their name immortalized on the Borg-Warner Trophy and Newgarden came out on top.
Defending race winner Marcus Ericsson held the lead for the final restart, with Newgarden starting behind him, carrying the weight of never having won this race and wanting to be the first to win for Roger Penske since he bought the track in 2019.
Using the move that won him the race a year ago, Ericsson snaked back and forth trying to defend and keep Newgarden in his rear-view, but the two-time IndyCar champion had the momentum down the backstretch and was able to counter. The winning move came as Newgarden swung to the outside of Ericsson and cleared him as they entered Turn 3.
To keep the lead, Newgarden took a page from Ericsson’s book and used the same move to defend his position and motored across the line as the newly crowned victor.
“Everyone kept asking me why I hadn’t won this race and they look at you like you’re a failure if you don’t win it,” Newgarden said. “I wanted to win it so bad. I knew we could win it. I knew we were capable. I’m so thankful to Shell and Team Chevy and everybody. A huge team effort as everybody knows. I’m so glad to be here.
“I was just trying to stay locked in. I was emotional the whole last 10 laps because I knew we were in a position to fight for this win at the end. And I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to come down to a last lap shootout like it always does these days, which is exciting, but stressful for us.
“I can’t talk highly enough about the team. We worked so hard all month. It takes so long to get to this point. We’re here for weeks, working and grinding on these things for this one moment and that’s what makes it so demoralizing when it doesn’t work out.
“But I can tell you we’re going to enjoy tonight. It’s going to be amazing.”
Meanwhile, Ericsson was left to wonder what else he could have done to win back-to-back Indy 500s, laying some of the blame at the feet of the sanctioning body for the decision to throw the red flag a third time to set up the last lap shoot-out.
“I just feel like it was an unfair and dangerous end to the race,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think there were enough laps to do what we did. I think we’ve never done a restart out of the pits. You know, we didn’t get the tires up to temperature.
“I think we did everything right today. 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 then built a gap and kept the lead into Turn 1, which no one has done all day. But I just couldn’t hold it on the back…
“Congratulation to Josef. He did everything right as well. He’s a worthy champion, just very disappointed with the way that ended. I don’t think that was fair.”
Santino Ferrucci brought home a third-place result, delivering the little team that could – AJ Foyt Racing – its best finish in the Indy 500 since 2000 and capturing his best career finish as well.
Ferrucci came into the day full of confidence that he and his team could be in the mix when all the chips were down at the end of the day and they certainly brought the fight to the big teams, nearly coming away with the win.
“This one stings. It’s bittersweet, but I’m happy with third. I’m happy with the team. Happy for Josef and all of Team Penske. He did a hell of a job there at the end holding off Marcus. Obviously, its not an easy thing or else everyone else would do it. I’m really proud of what we’ve done today.”
Polesitter Alex Palou battled back from deep in the field after contact on pit road looked to have sunk his chances to finish fourth. The 2021 series champion seemed to be the class of the field before he and Rinus VeeKay collided near halfway. Prior to that incident, he had led 36 laps on the day.
The remainder of the top 10 went to Alexander Rossi in fifth and Scott Dixon in sixth, followed by Takuma Sato, Conor Daly, Colton Herta, and Rinus VeeKay.
A RED-FLAG TRILOGY
Prior to lap 185, the race was only slowed by two single car crashes before the trio of red flag periods that brought the race to a halt.
The first incident was the most frightening of the three when Felix Rosenqvist got into the outside wall and subsequently spun, which in turn collected Kyle Kirkwood’s oncoming Honda, sending him upside down and skidding along the backstretch. The impact between the two cars also sheared off the left rear wheel of Kirkwood’s car and launched it over the fence and into the parking lot between the track and the golf course.
Thankfully, both drivers were able to climb from their mangled machines unscathed and no fans were injured in the incident, with the only reported damage coming in the form of a Chevrolet sedan that the tire impacted when it returned to Earth.
Shortly after the restart for the Kirkwood/Rosenqvist crash, Pato O’Ward and Ericsson were in a fierce battle in Turn 3, with O’Ward not relenting in his pursuit of trying to get closer to the lead. However, O’Ward would get the worst end of the deal as he spun underneath Ericsson before slamming the outside wall.
Behind him, Simon Pagenaud and rookie Augustin Canapino were also collected, with Canapino losing control of his car in the crash, which sent him rolling into O’Ward’s stopped Chevrolet for a heavy secondary impact.
Then came the final crash, which broke out at the back of the field between Ed Carpenter and rookie Benjamin Pedersen on the front stretch just moments after the green flag flew.
After one lap under caution, the field was eventually put under red flag conditions for the third time, setting up the final lap shootout for the win.
As they say, the rest is history.