Josef Newgarden douses himself in milk after winning the Indianapolis 500. (Al Steinberg Photo)

Newgarden Snatches Indy 500 From Ericsson

INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden of Team Penske won his first Indianapolis 500 Sunday by beating 2022 winner Marcus Ericsson at his own game.

It’s called the “Tail of the Dragon” – a draft-busting move designed to take the slipstream away from the second-place car to prevent the slingshot pass in the closing laps of the race.

Ericsson used the “zig-zag” move to win last year’s Indianapolis 500 by keeping Pato O’Ward from having a chance to fly by him and win the race.

He tried it again Sunday in a curious one-lap green and white flag dash to the checkered flag of the World’s Biggest Race, but this time Newgarden was prepared.

With three red flags in the final 15 laps to finish the Indy 500 under green flag racing conditions, IndyCar ended up creating a “green-and-white-then-checkered flag” situation without adding any overtime laps.

IndyCar and the biggest crowd to attend the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out 100th Running of the race in 2016 got what they wanted to see, although it created a unique, and potentially dangerous situation for the competitors.

Rosenqvist & Kirkwood Crash Out

The first red flag came after a potentially catastrophic crash on lap 185 when Arrow McLaren driver Felix Rosenqvist lost control of his No. 6 Chevrolet in turn one. Rosenqvist hit the outside wall, which broke the front suspension on his car.

Felix Rosenqvist on track. (Penske Entertainment/James Black Photo)

It then slid across the track directly into the path of Kyle Kirkwood’s speeding No. 27 AutoNation Honda for Andretti Autosport.

Kirkwood slammed into the right rear-wheel of Rosenqvist’s car, breaking Kirkwood’s the left rear tire off the suspension. The impact was so severe, it sent the wheel and suspension pieces flying over the turn two wall, dangerously near the grandstands.

It sailed through an open area between the grandstands in turn two and the turn two suites before it landed on a white car in the parking area near the suites.

There were no serious injuries from the wheel, but a female spectator was seen and released from the IU Health Infield Care Center after being hit by debris.

Kirkwood’s car flipped over and skidded several hundred feet on its roll hoop and aeroscreen before coming to a stop.

Kirkwood was assisted by the AMR IndyCar Medical Team but was not injured.

IndyCar Race Control stopped the race with the red flag to try to set up a green flag finish to the contest.

The race was restarted on lap 192 with O’Ward the leader, but on lap 193 Newgarden passed both O’Ward and Ericsson for the lead in turn one.

O’Ward’s Heartbreak

Not for long, though, because Pato O’Ward slammed into the turn three wall, ending the race for the Arrow McLaren contender. But Augustin Canapino of Juncos-Hollinger Racing had no brakes and slammed into O’Ward’s car. Simon Pagenaud was rear-ended by Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin.

The red flag was displayed for a second time on lap 193.

After the red was rescinded and the yellow flag was displayed, the pits were open for two laps as IndyCar attempted to finish under green.

One Final Red Flag

Racing resumed on lap 196, and this time, the field couldn’t even make it to the start/finish line before Christian Lundgaard contacted Ed Carpenter, sending the popular driver into the inside wall. Benjamin Pedersen of A.J. Foyt Racing was unable to stop in time and ran into Carpenter’s Chevrolet just before the Yard of Bricks.

The field took one lap around the track under yellow and the Red Flag was displayed for a third time on lap 197 instead of finishing under yellow.

That set up essentially a one-lap out of the pits and to the green and white flags to determine the winner of the race in a one-lap dash.

Last Lap Dash To The Finish

Ericsson was the leader and tried to use the “Tail of the Dragon” to keep Newgarden behind him.

But the Team Penske driver was able to outmatch the popular driver from Sweden on the backstretch, then used a bit of the “Tail of the Dragon” of his own to win the race by 0.0974-of-a-second.

Newgarden (2) outstretched ahead of Marcus Ericsson on the final lap. (Dallas Breeze Photo)

It was Newgarden’s first Indianapolis 500 win in his 12th start. It was the 27th win of his IndyCar Series career, tying Johnny Rutherford for 14th on the all-time list.

“To win this race is indescribable,” said Newgarden, who became the first driver from Tennessee to win the Indy 500. “I think being at this event is indescribable. Someone has to come and see it and be a part of it to understand what it is really all about, and I’ve always wanted the honor to win this race because I wanted to go in the crowd if it was ever possible because I know what the energy is like here in Indianapolis.

“So, to me, it was an unbelievable finish to be able to be here with the team and do that.”

It was also the 19th Indianapolis 500 win for car owner Roger Penske, his first since purchasing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 in November 2019.

“I think back about coming here in 1951 with my dad to see the first race of my own with him, and of course never realized that many, many years would pass, and I would be here today, our family as the steward of the track, and also to have 19 wins,” Penske said after the win. “But we’re competitors. We love this business. We’re committed to this track, to this series, to make it better. And when I see the people today and the demographics and the kids and 70,000 people here on Carburetion Day, and we had the biggest crowd we had since probably 2016. You saw it yourself. Amazing.

“But we go on to Detroit, and we’re excited because we’re trying to make this series not just Indianapolis, but it’s all around the country. I think we’ve got the fastest cars, the high-tech cars. I think our group of drivers are amazing and teams that’s competitive. We just want to take this on to many, many key cities around the United States and maybe other places.

“Next week to be able to come to Detroit. It’s ironic last Wednesday or Thursday the mayor and the City Council president took the speed limit signs down to 25 miles an hour in front of the GM Building and put up 200 mile-an-hour signs, so that’s what I’m counting on for next week.”

Before heading to Detroit, Penske will be at the annual Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis Monday night where he will honor the winning team of the 107th Indianapolis 500 – the team that Penske owns.

Ericsson Frustrated By Ending

As for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, the final red flag of the race left Ericsson seeing red.

“I think it was a tough way to end the race,” Ericsson said. “I don’t really agree with how we did that. I don’t think that was a fair way to end the race. But I’m proud of our effort.

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.

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 (turn) one, but it wasn’t enough, so for sure it’s hard to swallow.”

Newgarden was able to utilize the “Tail of the Dragon” to his advantage on the final lap, even though the one-lap showdown was a bit controversial.

“It’s impossible to not use that because of the ease it is to follow one car,” Newgarden explained. “It got even tougher this year. I think sitting in first place was even more difficult than what we’ve seen in years past, even just last year, and when I was able to get by him on the back straight, I was actually really surprised how much momentum he still had in (turns) three and four.

“He was like super close and had a good run coming off 4, and with that, I thought, I’ve got to be as aggressive as possible to not let him by.

“Today we had an opportunity to win the race, and I wasn’t looking to take anyone else out of the race, but I was going to put my car on the line to win. I was either going to win the race or I’d end up in the wall. I wasn’t here to finish second, third, or fourth today. I was here to win.

“So, I just did everything I could at the end there.”

Triumph For Newgarden

Newgarden celebrated the elusive Indianapolis 500 by stopping the car at the Yard of Bricks, pumping both arms into the air, then climbing under the fence by the flagstand to go into the crowd to celebrate with the fans.

It was an Indianapolis 500 first.

“I knew exactly where the gap was,” Newgarden explained. “I had been over there many, many years. I’ve seen that photo, whole spot, and really, it’s just like an access point that you can crawl under. It looks like it’s closed but there’s a way to get through. I knew exactly where I was going at the end of this race.

Newgarden after winning his first career Indy 500. (Dallas Breeze Photo)

“I planned to go higher in the stands, but it quickly got a little out of control, and I thought, maybe the best thing is for me to leave again. I hugged a couple people. I felt the energy, and I’m like, I need to get out of here.

“But it was really cool. You just can’t beat the Hoosier hospitality, the energy that people bring here. It is second to none when it comes to a sporting event.

“I’ve always known that, having the privilege of being here many, many years and seeing it, and I just wanted to be a part of it. It was always something that would be a dream come true to be able to do that.”

Looking Back

There were 52 lead changes among 14 different drivers in an extremely competitive and tight race throughout the field. O’Ward led the most laps with 39, three more than pole winner Alex Palou who was in front for 36 laps.

The first 92 laps of the race were run under the green flag before Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hit the turn one wall for the first caution.

During pit stops on lap 94, Palou was leaving his pit area when the second-place car driven by Rinus VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap, but 28th position.

Palou would ultimately fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won.

The second yellow flag waved on lap 150 when Andretti Autosport driver Romain Grosjean hit the turn two wall.

When the green flag waved on lap 155, the racing was wild with three-wide moves into the turns and four-wide moves on the backstretch on what is essentially a one-groove track.

That created an impending sense that something bad was about to happen.

It did on lap 185 with the Rosenqvist crash that involved Kirkwood sending the rear wheel flying over the wheel fence in turn three.

A.J. Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci finish third in the No. 14 Chevrolet after he led 11 laps. Palou was fourth in the No. 10 American Legion Honda with Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi fifth in the No. 7 Chevrolet. Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon was sixth for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato of Tokyo was seventh in the Deloitte Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.

It was a wild, thrilling and sometimes frightening Indianapolis 500. And the race finally picked Newgarden as the winner.

“Well, my poor wife gets the — she’s probably got the toughest job in our family, not just because she looks out for everything and helps make my world go round, but she sees the negative impact, she sees the heartbreak more than anyone else, so she knows what that’s like,” Newgarden said as he broke into tears. “I’m just happy we were able to finally win it. She knows that, too. I don’t know why I’m getting emotional about it. She’s just as competitive as me. I can imagine how happy she was.”