Newgarden on Indy 500 glory: “I was either going to win the race or I’d end up in the wall”

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The Team Penske No. 2 driver reflects on his first Indy 500 win at the twelveth attempt.

Photo credit: Penske Entertainment | James Black

Josef Newgarden, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske car, reaches motorsport immortality after winning the 107th running of the Indy 500. He started 17th and, in a chaotic race from the second yellow onwards, could overtake the defending champion Marcus Ericsson on the final lap before turn 3.

The week did not start great for the Team Penske squad, only Will Power could get to the Fast 12, and Newgarden was the last of the latter. He could only start on the 6th row, just behind his Bus Bro Scott McLaughlin.The first half of the race was mostly run by a strategy war. But his Shell Powering Progress car had better tyre wear than his competitors. He could work his way methodically up to 9th before the 50th lap mark. After the first yellow caused by Sting Ray Robb crashing at turn 1 on lap 92, he saw two of his main competitors crash in the pit lane, as Rinus VeeKay lost control of his ECR and made contact with pole-sitter Alex Palou.The two-time IndyCar champion could dodge the chaos and on lap 134 was already in third position, fighting with Marcus Ericsson, Felix Rosenqvist, Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi. So, with 50 laps to go, he was in prime position to fight for the win.Nevertheless, from there, three red flags were triggered. The first was after Felix Rosenqvist lost his car in Newgarden’s dirty air and crashed into the barrier, he was hit later by Kyle Kirkwood and the No. 27 flipped. The second one was after O’Ward and Ericsson’s crash just behind him. On that restart, Newgarden went from third to first, jumping both drivers. So, he would lead the next restart.That restart did not last a straight, with chaos unfolding behind between Lundgaard, Pedersen, Carpenter, and Andretti. But Marcus Ericsson was able to get the lead by the smallest of margins. Newgarden was later declared second, being ahead of Santino Ferrucci at the moment the caution was thrown.It was unclear if the red flag would be thrown at all, but it was decided with three laps to go to stop the race, to attempt a green flag finish. It was a one-lap shootout between the defending champion and Newgarden.“Well, it was a good position to be in.”, he said about being in second at that moment. “I think second or third was a good start or a good position to be in on the restart, particularly with only one lap to go. That’s where you want to be.

“For me it was get the lead at all costs, whether that’s Turn 1 or Turn 3. I wasn’t premeditating that Turn 3; had to be the spot. If I had a little better jump I probably would have passed Marcus in Turn 1.

“Maybe that wouldn’t have been right, but I think you have to go at the first opportunity because of the potential for the yellows.”Ericsson tried his famous “Dragon” move at the front straightaway. Newgarden kept his cool and got a great run out of Turn 2. Ericsson was defenseless but had the opportunity on the last straight. So the 32-year-old had to be ultra aggressive and made an even bigger version of the “Dragon”, almost going into the pitlane.“Look, it’s impossible to not use that [the Dragon] because of the ease it is to follow one car. 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 3 and 4.

“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.“Yeah, I was about driving through pit lane. 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.”With that move, he could confirm his win. It was his first after 12 years of trying at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Photo credit: Penske Entertainment | Joe Skibinski

“There’s no denying that Indianapolis, this is the most difficult motor race in the world to win. It’s the pressure that builds this entire month. You have so much time to potentially get it right, and it comes down to really one day to be perfect.

“You can have a good qualifying. You can have a good Fast Friday. You can have good Carb Day. If you’re not good on Race Day, it’s all for nothing. That’s what makes Indy so terribly pressure filled but terribly difficult, too. I think that’s what has made it special today to win it. I just feel overjoyed for the amount of work we put in this month.

“On the flipside, when you don’t win it, that’s what makes it so demoralizing. You pack up, you say we, lived here for three weeks’ and we put everything we had into this and it didn’t work out. It just breaks your heart. It’s broken my heart every year.

“And so I feel — I just feel amazing now that it didn’t break my heart this year.”

It was his first, but was Roger Penske’s 19th. Now the focus is on getting to the 20th.“That’s what I said. I put my hand on his shoulder in Victory Lane and said, now we got to get 20. He was the first one to go, absolutely. He didn’t even take a breath. He was ahead of me in the thought process, as you know.”Newgarden didn’t come directly to Victory Lane. He stopped on track and found a spot to crawl into the grandstand, a now iconic picture and a first-of-its-kind celebration at the IMS.

About that, the Team Penske star said it was the only thought that was premeditated:

Photo credits: Penske Entertainment | Karl Zemlin

“The only thing I really had in my head that I wanted to do was go in the crowd. That was the only thing I felt adamant about. If I was lucky enough to win, I was doing that.

“Yeah, I knew exactly where the gap was. I’d 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.

“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.”

He was overwhelmed with happiness, but only got emotional while talking about his wife Ashley:“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.

“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.”

Photo credit: Penske Entertainment | Joe Skibinski