Photo: Matt Fraver/Penske Entertainment

O’Ward Falls Agonizingly Short of Capturing Indy 500 Victory

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – As Josef Newgarden celebrated his second straight win in the Indianapolis 500, runner-up finisher Pato O’Ward pulled into his pit box, started to climb from his car and laid his head on the top of the cockpit as he tried to gather his thoughts about coming so close to accomplishing a life-long dream.

The 25-year-old Mexican has come close to winning at Indianapolis before, but this time, it just seemed to sting more.

Starting the day in eighth-place, O’Ward held steady among the lead cars for most of the day, but in the closing stages of the race, he really came to life, jumping into the battle for the lead with Newgarden and his Arrow McLaren teammate Alexander Rossi in the final run to the finish.

With five laps to go, O’Ward powered by Newgarden down the frontstretch to take over the lead, only for Newgarden to pass him back the next time by the flag stand.

That only strengthened his resolve to see it through to the finish, studying his foe for weaknesses and waiting for his opportunity to strike.

Following closely in Newgarden’s tire tracks down the front stretch with the white flag waving, O’Ward took the fight to the defending Indy 500 winner, sweeping around the outside of him into Turn 1 to the enjoyment of the crowd, which erupted with cheers and high fives as the No. 5 car was elevated to the top of the board.

However, that excitement would be short-lived, with O’Ward juking and jiving down the backstretch to try and break the draft, but to no avail as Newgarden was able to mirror O’Ward and made a gutsy outside pass into Turn 3 to retake the lead.

From there, O’Ward simply ran out of real estate to be able to chase him back down by the checkered flag, having to once again settle for a second-place finish in the Indianapolis 500.

“Just so close again. So fucking close,” O’Ward said afterwards.

“It’s been a tough month. So much goes into this race. I think I’m somebody that wears my heart on my sleeve. I don’t really hide anything.

“It’s just when you’ve come so close and it just doesn’t seem to — you just can’t seem to get it right, it’s just a lot of emotion I would say.”

O’Ward explained that he has learned much over the last handful of years when it comes to trying to win the Indianapolis 500 and Sunday would just have to be more knowledge to add to the arsenal for the future.

“Every 500 for me has been very different,” O’Ward said. “There’s been some that I’ve led a lot more and been up front a lot more. This one we were stuck a lot more.

“Some people were driving like maniacs on the restarts. I was just playing defense for 85 percent of the race. Some of the moves out there were just mental, stupid. I was just glad that I didn’t touch anybody, I didn’t crash.

“I know how to make my way up in this place. All I needed to do was keep my car clean and for yellows to stop coming out because then you can’t do anything. Where it gets good is when we can start getting creating with overcuts, undercuts and all that jazz.

“Glad I was able to do that, and yeah, made our way with I think one exchange it was. Just come back next year and go at it again.”

Even in the midst of his victory celebration, Newgarden lauded the way that O’Ward raced him down the stretch, noting that he thinks his day is coming soon to be able to call himself an Indy 500 champion.

Newgarden knows something of what O’Ward may be going through, having come to Indianapolis year after year only to not win before breaking through last year.

“He drove like a champion in this race and he’s just as deserving of a winner in my opinion,” Newgarden said. “He definitely could have won this race. It’s tough to not win it. I can’t say anything to ease that for him. When you don’t win, it hurts.

“I’ve left here 11 times prior with a broken heart, so I know the feeling. Whether you’re close or you’re far, it’s a broken heart. I can’t ease that.

“But he’s a champion. I think he knows it. I definitely have a lot of respect for him.”

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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.