INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Josef Newgarden ended 11 years of frustration and finally won the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday to extend team owner Roger Penske’s record to 19 wins — but the first since buying Indianapolis Motor Speedway — with a bold pass from defending race winner Marcus Ericsson during a frantic 2.5-mile sprint to the finish.
After the race was red-flagged for the third time in the last 16 laps, Newgarden was moved from fourth to second by race control following a running order review at the time the yellow flag was waved.
The two-time IndyCar champion, who was 0 for 11 in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, took advantage of his improved position by swinging around Ericsson on the restart and holding him off through the final two corners.
Newgarden brought his Chevrolet-powered car to a stop on the front stretch, jumped out to find a hole in the fence, and dove into part of an estimated crowd of more than 300,000 to celebrate. Next, Newgarden climbed the fence to emulate longtime Team Penske driver and four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves.
The 32-year-old from Nashville is the first American to win Indy since Alexander Rossi in 2016.
“I am so grateful to be here. I started out as a fan in the crowd, and this place is great no matter where you sit,” Newgarden said after pouring a bottle of whole milk over his head. “Everyone kept asking why I didn’t win this race, and they look at you like you’re a failure if you didn’t win it. I knew I was capable. I knew I could.”
Ericsson finished second in a Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing and he immediately criticized IndyCar’s decision to hold a one-lap shootout to the checkered flag. The Swede felt the race should have ended cautiously, with him winning, rather than waving the green flag out of the pits on the first lap.
“I think it was an unfair and dangerous way to end the race,” said Ericsson. “I think I did everything right behind the wheel.”
Newgarden and Ericsson were followed by Santino Ferrucci, who gave 88-year-old AJ Foyt his team’s best finish in the iconic race that Super Tex has won four times since Kenny Bräck hit victory lane in 1999.
Alex Palou, the pole sitter and race favorite for Chip Ganassi Racing, finished fourth after recovering from a pit road crash, and Alexander Rossi was fifth on what was otherwise a disappointing day for Arrow McLaren.
What was on track to become the fastest Indy 500 in history ended with three red flags in the final 16 laps.
The first was a crash involving Felix Rosenqvist and Kyle Kirkwood, who were at the front of the leading pack. Rosenqvist hit the gate at Turn 1 and was unable to prevent his Arrow McLaren car from sliding down the track. Kirkwood let go of his right rear tire and went upside down against the catch gate, beginning a terrifying, spark-filled ride through the short chute.
One of Kirkwood’s wheels sailed over the railing and narrowly cleared the packed grandstand. No one was injured. His tire smashed the hood of a Chevrolet in a parking lot next to the grandstand.
“All I know is that I was in the fence, which is never a good thing in IndyCar. Thank goodness these cars are so safe,” Kirkwood said. “I saw sparks flying everywhere. That’s the scary part. You are upside down and at that point you are a bit stuck.”
On the restart, Pato O’Ward – who had already canceled a restart for setting too slow a pace – was shuffled from first to third as Newgarden rocketed into the lead. O’Ward and Ericsson then entered Turn 3 side-by-side and touched the wheels, and O’Ward slid into the wall and out of the race in another bitter disappointment for Arrow McLaren.
Agustin Canapino made a 360 spin behind him and broke a breakline. He was unable to stop and collided with O’Ward’s car.
“I was a little too nice there,” said O’Ward. “I feel so bad for the team. We had four very fast race cars, now only two are in the race. … I got on the platform to give (Ericsson) room. I was squeezed. Yeah, that I do not forget.”
Suddenly the race got its second red flag with six laps to go.
Last year’s race was red-flagged with five to go, as Ericsson led O’Ward to the finish. Ericsson held him off the rest of the way and many criticized O’Ward for not making a more aggressive move for the win.
Newgard didn’t make the same mistake with Ericsson before him.
As Newgarden crossed the stone yard, Penske and his entire board of directors jumped up and down to celebrate on a raised platform at the start-finish line. And for a moment, the 86-year-old team owner looked like a child full of joy.
“The last two laps I forgot I was the track owner and said, ‘Let’s go for it,'” said Penske, who completed a victory lap around the speedway with Newgarden in an open Chevy Camaro. “He has wondered for so long why he couldn’t win here.”
Newgarden’s wife, Ashley, fell to her knees and sobbed with joy, and Newgarden cried in his car.
“Just pure emotion,” he said. “I tried to stay contained. I was emotional all through the last 10 laps because I knew we were in a position to fight for the win. I can’t say enough about the team. They worked so hard all month.”
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.