Josef Newgarden wins Indianapolis 500 for 2nd straight year

ByABC News
May 26, 2024, 7:59 PM

INDIANAPOLIS -- Josef Newgarden once again brought his victorious Team Penske car to a stop on the Yard of Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He found that same hole in the fence, climbed through and was pummeled by fans celebrating his second consecutive Indianapolis 500 triumph.

Everything about his victory Sunday -- down to the last-lap duel, this time with Pato O'Ward -- seemed just like last year.

The only difference was the circumstances.

A year ago, Newgarden was the hard-luck driver who had accomplished so much yet had never won "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." On Sunday, he was the superstar winning in the shadow of a cheating scandal that kept his race strategist from even being inside the speedway for the rain-delayed event.

Newgarden put the scandal behind him to become the first back-to-back winner of the Indy 500 since Helio Castroneves 22 years ago and give Roger Penske a record-extending 20th win in the biggest race in the world.

The Tennessean won a final-lap duel with O'Ward to become the first driver to win consecutive 500s since Castroneves did it for Penske in 2001 and 2002. Newgarden also climbed through the hole in the fence last year to celebrate with fans in the grandstands.

"I love this crowd. I've got to always go in the crowd if we win here. I am always doing that," said Newgarden, who earned a $440,000 bonus from trophy-maker BorgWarner for winning consecutive 500s. The award was established in 1995 and claimed only once previously, by Castroneves.

Penske had been watching the race high above the speedway and pumped his arm in celebration as Newgarden crossed the finish line. He then hugged his wife. It took less than an hour for the placard that designates Penske's parking spot inside the speedway to be changed from "19" to "20."

O'Ward, who finished .3417 seconds behind Newgarden, slumped his head over his steering wheel in disappointment. He was trying to become the first Mexican driver in 108 runnings to win the Indy 500.

It looked as if O'Ward had been crying when he finally removed his helmet. He finished sixth in his Indy 500 debut, then fourth and then second in 2022, when he was accused of not being aggressive enough to race Marcus Ericsson for the win.

O'Ward refused to back down last year and wound up crashing as he went for the victory.

As O'Ward bided his time during Sunday's closing laps -- he and Newgarden traded the lead several times -- O'Ward waited to make the winning pass on the final lap.

Newgarden got it right back two turns later.

"It is hard to put it into words. We went back, we went forward, we went back, some people were driving like maniacs," O'Ward said. "We had so many near race-enders. Just so close again.

"I put that car through things I never thought it was going to be able to do. It is always a heartbreak when you're so close, especially when it's not the first time and you don't know how many opportunities you have."

O'Ward has finished second to Newgarden in six different races, and he was still struggling with his emotions an hour after the race. He said he battled the flu over the past week and barely slept the previous five days.

"I'm fine. It's been a tough month, so much goes into this race," O'Ward said. "I think I'm somebody who wears my heart on my sleeve. I don't really hide anything. And it's just -- when you come so close, and it just doesn't seem to happen, it's just a lot of emotion."

He said he deliberately took his time getting out of the car and removing his helmet because, "I just wanted to calm down. It was wet in there."

Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing was third as the highest-finishing Honda driver and had empathy for O'Ward. Dixon, a six-time IndyCar champion who is considered the greatest driver of his era, has one win in the Indy 500.

"It's a privilege to race here, right? I'm in a situation where I'm lucky to have won, but Pato has come close a few times," Dixon said. "It can go in cycles. As I've said many a times, finishing second sucks. It's horrible. You'd rather finish last, I think, almost, at this place and be out of the race early. He'll be fine. He's got plenty of time on his hands."

The win was an incredible rebound for Newgarden, who last month had his March season-opening victory disqualified because Team Penske had illegal push-to-pass software on its cars. Newgarden had used the additional horsepower three times in the win, and it took IndyCar nearly six weeks to discover the Penske manipulation.

Roger Penske, who owns the race team, IndyCar, the Indy 500 and the speedway, suspended four crew members, including team president Tim Cindric. That was a massive blow to Newgarden, as Cindric is considered the best strategist in the series.

Newgarden was thrilled to have the win and put the push-to-pass scandal behind him.

"Absolutely, they can say what they want. I don't even care anymore," he said. "It's always a team win. This win epitomizes a team victory. I'm thankful for Roger Penske; he stood by me. He's the man. He's a legend."

Newgarden's victory capped an eventful afternoon that saw the start delayed four hours because of severe storms and interrupted by multiple cautions.

Still, officials managed to get in all 200 laps around the 2.5-mile oval but only just, with the race finishing in the Indiana sunset barely before the 8:15 p.m. ET curfew.

The delayed start derailed NASCAR star Kyle Larson's attempt to become the fifth driver to complete "The Double" by running the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. The delay in Indy made him miss the start of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Although Larson was decent most of the day, two rookie mistakes led to an 18th-place finish in Indianapolis.

"I would definitely love to be back next year," Larson, who has a two-year deal with Arrow McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports for Indy and could return in 2025, said of the race. "Feel like I learned a lot. Made a couple of mistakes early there with the restart; not sure what I did there. Feel like I did a really good job after that and was able to learn a lot."

Larson was on a helicopter within minutes of the race ending, bound for North Carolina. After two helicopter rides and about an hourlong flight, Larson arrived for the 400-lap Cup Series race that Justin Allgaier had started in his place. Just as he arrived, weather brought the race to a halt with 151 laps left, giving Larson time to climb into the No. 5 car. He never got to turn a lap at Charlotte, however, as the race was ultimately called and  Christopher Bell declared the winner. 

Dixon at third in the 500 was followed by  Alexander Rossi, O'Ward's teammate at Arrow McLaren Racing. Chevrolet took three of the top four spots.

A first-lap crash took out Ericsson, the 2022 winner, Tom Blomqvist and Pietro Fittipaldi, as three Honda drivers failed to complete a lap. In all, Honda drivers finished in the final seven spots.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.