Pato O'Ward after finishing second in the 108th Indianapolis 500. (IndyCar Photo)

HOFFMAN: Pato O’Ward’s Time Will Come

Finishing second in any automobile race is typically chalked up as a strong result. 

Sure, you’re not waving the checkered flag or taking home more cash, but it’s a morale booster and tends to lead to an eventual victory.

For Pato O’Ward, finishing second in Sunday’s 108th Indianapolis 500 was nothing short of agonizing. 

Two years prior, O’Ward was kicking himself for backing out of the throttle on the final lap entering turn one as Marcus Ericsson cruised to victory.

On Sunday, the Arrow McLaren driver seemed to make all the right moves.

Instead of using a massive run on the backstretch with two laps to go to overtake leader Josef Newgarden, O’Ward seemingly backed off, showing he wasn’t ready to make his move.

It all led to a dart to the outside of Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevrolet beneath the waving white flag. 

O’Ward had made his potential winning move.

However, Newgarden had one last move in his back pocket, as he powered past O’Ward’s No. 5 Chevrolet entering turn three.

Race over. 

As Newgarden celebrated back-to-back Indy 500 wins with the fans in the grandstands, O’Ward’s dejection was apparent.

On pit lane, the 25-year-old sat for a moment with his head resting on the No. 5 Chevrolet’s aeroscreen. 

Multiple crew members came by to give O’Ward a pat on the back. 

Teammate and former Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi shared a brief embrace with the Mexican driver. O’Ward could only muster up a frown and shake of the head. 

Josef Newgarden (2) takes the checkered flag at the 108th Indianapolis 500. (Kory Hales Photo)

Noticeable redness and tears in his eyes were seen as O’Ward went through the motions of post-race interviews.

“It is just so painful when you put so much into it and then you are two corners short,” O’Ward said.

“This place, it owes me nothing. I would have much rather finished the race rather than compared last year, but it’s always a heartbreak when you are so close, especially when it’s not the first time. 

“You just don’t know how many opportunities like that you have.”

This loss will sting O’Ward for a long time, and rightfully so.

I’m sure for the next few days he’ll be replaying what he could have done differently to change the outcome.

However, through it all, O’Ward should leave Indy with his head held high.

O’Ward learned what didn’t work two years ago and grew from it. He calculated his move on Sunday, practically to perfection.

The phrase around the speedway is that every year, the track picks the winner. 

So many times, a perfect run looks to be the winning one in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Look at Newgarden for instance. 

It took him 12 tries to win it once. Now he’s scored two in the last two years. The same goes for Arrow McLaren’s driver consultant and team ambassador, Tony Kanaan. 

It was 12 years before Kanaan finally broke through in 2013. He led 221 laps in his previous Indy 500 starts before leading the one that mattered the most – the last one. 

As more evidence of how hard it can be to win at Indy, Sam Hanks endured 12 years of a dry spell at the 2.5-mile oval before finally breaking through in 1957, in his 13th start. 

The moral of the story is everyone’s path to Indianapolis 500 immortality is different. There’s no doubt O’Ward will continue to be a threat to win at the brickyard. 

What will separate O’Ward from drivers who never won the Indy 500 is his dedication to learn, grow and come back next year more motivated than ever.

And that, I firmly believe he will do.