INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden’s victory in Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 victory gave the driver from Hendersonville, Tennessee the full range of emotions.
He broke down in tears of joy immediately after getting the checkered flag, before staging a celebration at the Yard of Bricks that rivaled former teammate Helio Castroneves climbing the fence.
Instead of attempting to go over the fence, Newgarden went under it. He knew where the small photo gate was located and was able to duck underneath and go into Paddock Box 21 for a wild celebration with the fans.
Later, when he spoke of the impact his Ashley has had on his life, the newest Indianapolis 500 winner once again broke down in tears.
“I feel emotionally depleted,” Newgarden said afterwards. “I really do.
“My poor wife — 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.
“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.”
It was the first career Indianapolis 500 victory for Newgarden in his 12th career “500” start. His previous-best finish was third in 2016 for Ed Carpenter Racing. Newgarden joined Team Penske in 2017. Newgarden tied 1957 winner Sam Hanks and 2013 winner Tony Kanaan for the most starts before winning in event history.
Newgarden started 17th, the lowest starting position for an Indianapolis 500 winner since Ryan Hunter-Reay triumphed from 19th on the starting grid in 2014. It was the third time a driver has won the Indianapolis 500 from the 17th starting position. The others: Eddie Cheever in 1998 and Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose in 1941.
Newgarden led five laps. The only winners to lead fewer laps were Joe Dawson, who led two in 1912, and Dan Wheldon, who led one lap in 2011. Newgarden is the first American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 since Alexander Rossi in 2016.
Newgarden made the most significant position advancement in the field, 16 positions, to claim his first Indianapolis 500 win.
There were 52 lead changes, the third-highest total in Indianapolis 500 history. The record is 68 in 2013, followed by 54 in 2016.
The margin of victory was .0974 of a second, the fourth-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history. Top three: 1992 – .043 of a second Al Unser Jr. over Scott Goodyear; 2014 – .0600 of a second Ryan Hunter-Reay over Helio Castroneves; 2006 – .0635 of a second Sam Hornish Jr. over Marco Andretti.
Those are the numbers, but the emotions tell the true story of Newgarden’s first career Indianapolis 500 win.
It’s a victory he wasn’t sure he would ever achieve.
With two NTT IndyCar Series championships and the most victories of any active American driver in the series, entering the race with 26, Newgarden has already had quite a career.
But he had yet to achieve a win in the biggest race on the planet.
Every year, Newgarden arrived only to see another driver celebrate in victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’ll be honest, it’s annoying,” Newgarden admitted. “It’s been terrible. It is mentally draining to be here for three weeks and just to know that you really only have one opportunity, and it comes down to today, and that’s the day you’ve got to be perfect and great, and everything has got to work out.
“So, you spend all this time and effort, and it’s really just a mental grind to work through that. The more you’ve been here, the more it’s not worked out, the more that grind really starts to gnaw at you.
“I don’t necessarily subscribe to the fact that if you don’t win the 500 your career is a failure, but I think a lot of people really view this race and this championship with that lens, that the 500 stands alone, and that if you’re not able to capture one, then the career really is a failure in a lot of ways.
“It’s impossible to not recognize that or to absorb that from people when you’re here, and I just didn’t know if circumstance would ever work out where it would really come to be where we could win the race.
“I just said — especially after ’19, where I did have an opportunity to win the race and we fell short, I said, ‘if I’m ever in a position again to win this race, I’m not coming back with a top-five result.’ I just don’t care what happens. You come here to win the race, and we’re going to do that.”
Newgarden had fought his way to be in position at the end, but the ending became one of the disjointed Indianapolis 500 finishes in history.
The race was red flagged three times in the final laps, including the final red flag where the cars left pit lane, did not complete an entire lap, and took the green and white flags for one final lap to determine the race.
Marcus Ericsson, the 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner, was in front but was attempting to “Unleash the Dragon” by using his draft-breaking zig zag maneuver to keep Newgarden from having a chance to pass. Newgarden was second, but as the two went down the backstretch, Ericsson went one direction and Newgarden the other.
From that point, Newgarden grabbed the lead and was going to do everything he could to prevent Ericsson’s Honda from passing.
Newgarden unleashed his own dragon, driving all the way below the white line off Turn 4 and dangerously close to the pit road attenuator before pulling up onto the track.
“I was about driving through pit lane,” Newgarden said. “It was legal is all I’m going to say. They were very clear that they are not enforcing that line, and they didn’t enforce it last year. They said they’re not enforcing it again, and I’m coming to the checkered flag and I’m going to do everything I can to win this race, and I had to be as aggressive as possible, because the tow effect to just the first car was even more difficult than last year.
“You were just a sitting duck if you were in the lead.
“Honestly, I don’t love that. I think the cars should be more difficult to drive here. It’s a very — terribly difficult balance for the series to walk because you want to have a good show. You want everybody to be as close together as possible and you want it to be difficult for someone to win this race, and I agree with that.”
Newgarden believe the formula needs to change but after listening to driver complaints about how hard last year’s package was to make passes, IndyCar officials developed an aerodynamic package that featured more lower downforce and more topside drag.
“We’ve got to find a different formula where we can trim the cars out and they’re easier to follow in the packs,” Newgarden said. “Basically, all this downforce that we’ve added has only made it easier and easier for the first two cars, so when you’re the third car you’re still just stuck in that tow line where no one is really going anywhere. We’re all closer, but it’s only the first two that can really do something.
“We’ve got to change that formula where it’s easier to follow in the pack, but you can also be rewarded if you’re better at driving the car with less downforce. I want to see the drivers that really excel get a better advantage.
“That’s why they pay us to be in the seat. That’s why they pay the engineers, to find the perfect setups that we can make an advantage and get away with it. Not so we can win by two laps, but I just think the dynamic of the race, the complexion could look a little differently.”
By unleashing his own dragon and breaking the tow effect for the second-place car, it was enough to keep Ericsson from getting a run and Newgarden won the race, setting off a wild celebration in the Team Penske pit area.
“Look, it’s impossible to not use that move 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 (turn) four, 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.
“I just did everything I could at the end there.”
Newgarden showed that he was prepared to risk all to finally achieve the one goal that ha eluded him. That shows the importance of winning the Indianapolis 500.