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 — albeit for the first time since buying the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — by scoring a bold Pass from reigning race winner Marcus Ericsson meanwhile took advantage of a frantic 2.5 mile sprint to the finish.
After the race was red flagged for the third time in the final 16 laps, Newgarden was moved from fourth to second by race officials after a review of the starting order at the time the yellow flag was waved.
The two-time IndyCar champion, who went 0 to 11 on The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, used his improved position to lap Ericsson on the restart and hold him up in the final two corners.
Newgarden pulled his Chevrolet-powered car to a stop on the front track, jumped out, found a hole in the fence and launched himself into part of the estimated 300,000+ people who were set to celebrate. Then Newgarden climbed over 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 an Indy since Alexander Rossi in 2016.
“I’m just so grateful to be here. I started out as a fan in the crowd and this place is amazing no matter where you sit,” Newgarden said after dumping a bottle of whole milk on his head. “Everyone always asked 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 immediately criticized IndyCar’s decision to hold a one-lap shootout to the checkered flag. The Swede felt the race should have ended with caution and him as the winner rather than hoisting 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 legendary race, which Super Tex has won four times since Kenny Bräck hit the winning streak in 1999.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s pole sitter and race favorite Alex Palou was fourth after recovering from a pit lane accident and Alexander Rossi was fifth on an otherwise disappointing day for Arrow McLaren.
What was on track to become the fastest Indy 500 in history ended with three red flags over the final 16 laps.
The first accident was due to an accident involving Felix Rosenqvist and Kyle Kirkwood, who were at the very front of the lead group. Rosenqvist hit the fence at Turn 1 and was unable to prevent his Arrow McLaren car from sliding down the track. Kirkwood launched his right rear tire, fell headfirst into the safety fence and began a terrifying, spark-filled ride down the short shaft.
One of Kirkwood’s bikes sailed over the fence and just past the crowded grandstand. Nobody 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 tight, 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’re upside down and you’re kind of stuck at that point.”
At the restart, Pato O’Ward – whose restart had already been canceled for slow speed – was relegated from first to third while Newgarden took the lead. O’Ward and Ericsson then entered Turn 3 side by side and touched the wheels. O’Ward slid into the wall and retired from the race, another bitter disappointment for Arrow McLaren.
Agustin Canapino spun 360 degrees behind him, catching a break line in the process. Unable to stop, he collided with O’Ward’s car.
“I was a little too nice there,” O’Ward said. “I’m just so disappointed in the team. We had four very fast race cars, now only two are left in the race. … I climbed onto the apron to give (Ericsson) room. I was crushed. Yes, I won’t forget that.”
Suddenly there was the second red flag of the race 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 taking more aggressive steps to secure the win.
With Ericsson in front of him, Newgarden didn’t make the same mistake.
As Newgarden crossed the brick yard, Penske and his entire executive committee cheered and jumped up and down on a raised platform near the start/finish line. And for a moment, the 86-year-old team owner seemed like a child full of joy.
“The last two laps, I forgot I was the track owner and said, ‘Let’s try it,'” said Penske, who joined Newgarden in an open-top Chevy Camaro for a victory lap of the speedway. “For so long he wondered why he couldn’t win here.”
Newgarden’s wife, Ashley, fell to her knees and sobbed in jubilation, and Newgarden cried in his car.
“Just pure emotion,” he said. “I tried to keep at it. I was emotional for the last ten laps because I knew we were capable of fighting for the win. I can’t praise the team enough. You’ve worked so hard all month.”
AP sportswriter Dave Skretta contributed to this report.