When Roger Penske purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) at the start of 2020, he’d already accumulated 18 victories in the Indianapolis 500. The most recent win came in 2019 with Simon Pagenaud, who ran the tables on the Month of May by winning the Grand Prix on the road course, taking pole position for the Indy 500 and winning the race.
Mr. Penske likely didn’t think it would take four years to earn a 19th victory, but the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is always filled with twists and turns. It’s been said the track decides who will kiss the vaunted Yard of Bricks after taking the checkered flags. If Sunday’s results are any indication, both the track and one driver hellbent on winning this race – after 12 years trying – were winners in Sunday’s 107th edition of this race.
Josef Newgarden, from Nashville, TN became the first American since Alexander Rossi won the 100th race to earn the checkered flags, the milk, wreath and all of the money and recognition that goes along with victory. He came from 17th on the grid to be in contention. The 200-lap enduro began with 91 clean laps of green flag racing around IMS’ 2.5-mile oval. Newgarden’s No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet-powered Dallara led only five laps, but he did lead the most important one, doing so by blocking defending 2022 winner Marcus Ericsson’s No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on the single-lap run to the Yard of Bricks.
Newgarden did what he had to do to gain victory, and it was tough going in the final 50 laps, with contact causing cautions and an incredible three red flags NTT INDYCAR SERIES officials deemed necessary to ensure the nearly 400,000 fans had a green flag result. On their feet and likely holding their breaths, fans witnessed a monumental battle between Newgarden and Ericsson that saw the 32-year-old victorious at the close. He then went to celebrate with fans, nearly climbing the fence after ducking under it. He finally entering Victory Lane with the help of his Team Penske crew.
Ericsson settled for second by a margin of 0.0974 seconds, the fourth-closest in history – and not terribly happily – while A.J. Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci brought his Chevy-powered No. 14 car home third, Foyt’s best result in 20 years. “That boy can drive,” said the first four-time winner of this race. Polesitter Alex Palou, in the No. 10 Ganassi Honda recovered to finish fourth after being rammed while leaving his pit box by Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay during stops at the halfway mark.
Alexander Rossi brought his Arrow McLaren Chevy home fifth, the highest finish for that four-car squad, six-time INDYCAR champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon scored sixth for Ganassi, followed by single-race teammate Takuma Sato, a two-time winner of this race who was quick and tidy all month. Ed Carpenter Racing’s (ECR) Conor Daly brought the team’s No. 20 Chevy from 16th to eighth, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched this driver charge through fields throughout his 10-year career in Indy cars.
Colton Herta had the highest finish for Andretti Autosport’s four-car Honda squad, in ninth from 21st on the grid. VeeKay finished tenth after his drive-through penalty for avoidable contact; he qualified second in the previous Sunday’s Firestone Fast Six time trials. Twenty-one of the 33 starters were still on the track after the mostly sun-drenched 200 laps, but the final runner, Team Penske’s Will Power, still finished behind two drivers, Carpenter and rookie Benjamin Pedersen, who were out due to the final caution and red flag after crashing on the pit straight.
Seventeen of the finishers were on the lead, 200th lap, with 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (Dreyer & Reinbold No. 23 Chevy), Juncos Hollinger’s Callum Ilott (No. 77 Chevy), Devlin DeFrancesco’s No. 29 Honda from Andretti Autosport and Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin in the No. 3 Chevy 11th through 14th. Marco Andretti’s No. 98 Honda, 17th, was the final car to complete the distance.
Two drivers who completed the full race were four-time winner Helio Castroneves, who took 15th in Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 06 Honda and Tony Kanaan, 16th in the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevy. This duo, whose racing careers have paralleled one another since 1987, saluted each other on the cool-down lap as Kanaan completed his long INDYCAR career at this race. The popular Brazilian will likely return to coach NASCAR’s 2021 Cup Series champion Kyle Larson (who was on-site as the Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 was rained out until Monday) next year.
Before the numerous cautions in the second half of the race, there was plenty of commotion on Indy’s long pit road. Errors in the pits caused many who could have had better results to settle for less. Start with Katherine Legge, who out-qualified her three regular-season teammates at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR). Legge, who competes with Acura in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, didn’t have much time to practice pit stops and it showed. “I ended up just overcooking the launch and barely touched the wall, but it did race-ending damage,” she explained of her 33rd place result.
The incident between pole man Palou, who had the first pit box at the road’s exit, and VeeKay was the result of the latter’s smoking launch from the pit behind the Spaniard’s that damaged both cars. The pit road issues were nothing compared to what happened to the 33rd starter, Graham Rahal in Dreyer & Reinbold’s No. 24 Chevy. Rahal was appointed to this car after Stefan Wilson’s accident during the post-qualifying Monday mid-day practice. The lanky Briton was on-site to cheer him on, but with a battery issue on the grid, Rahal had to call immediately on the pits and was two laps down when he entered competition. He would complete 195 laps, coming back from that difficulty to finish 22nd.
The red flags were the story of the day with cautions begetting cautions and INDYCAR wanting to give fans the show they deserved, rather than having the last laps run under caution. The first red was caused when Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist got loose, hit the wall out of the first turn and impacted Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, sending one of the latter car’s wheel/tire combos over IMS’s tall fencing and, thankfully, into the second turn’s parking lot, where it impacted a worker’s car. Kirkwood’s car overturned in this incident. No human was injured and both drivers were easily released from infield care, but the clean-up was long as INDYCAR wanted to ensure no one was hurt.
The second red came when Mexican star Pato O’Ward was a wee bit over-anxious to win, went low in the third turn, caught some air, with both Meyer Shank’s Pagenaud and Juncos Hollinger’s rookie Agustin Canapino involved. The second red came out on the 194th lap.
With Ericsson in the lead at this point, RLLR’s Christian Lundgaard, Ed Carpenter, rookie Benjamin Pedersen had contact, involving both Andretti and Rahal, causing the series to shut down the race once more. This left the field to complete a single lap of competition as the green and white flags flew simultaneously.
As they came to the checkered flags, Newgarden was using the “dragon move” that intends to stop a following car from being able to pass. He had gotten by Ericsson at the second turn and was not about to let him get an opportunity out of the fourth turn to beat him to the checkers. It worked. Just as it did for Ericsson last year when he beat O’Ward to the checkers under green.
Newgarden not only gave Roger Penske his 19th win in this race, but the 12th for Chevrolet in their 109th series victory. His mother, Tina, acknowledged that her son “wanted this so bad.” And the victor did “cry out the emotions. I had it. I had a ton of emotion there for a little bit. I’m just thankful to the team that we finally got this done. I was trying to put it off, you know, like it’s not going to define a career winning a race here, but everyone seems to want to make it a defining moment and, for me, I’m elated to finally get it to work out,” the two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion reflected.
“I’ve been wanting to win here and go in the crowd for so long. I’ve been waiting to do that – I’ve always wanted to go in the crowd here in Indy. There’s nothing like it. I’m just so thankful to be here to have a shot to run this race. I will never forget this my entire life,” the winner said.
On Monday night his earnings will be revealed and that of the remaining 32 racers at a banquet and prize-giving ceremony at the JW Marriott. Newgarden will celebrate with the full Team Penske crew and with wife Ashley, parents Tina and Joey and his young son, Kota Nicolai Newgarden, just over one year old.
And then, it’s time to put the 107th Indianapolis 500 in the rearview mirror. The seventh race of the season is just next Sunday on the downtown streets of Detroit, a return to downtown for the series that had been racing at Belle Isle for the past few decades.
107th Indianapolis 500 results:
1. (17) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running
2. (10) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 200, Running
3. (4) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 200, Running
4. (1) Alex Palou, Honda, 200, Running
5. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 200, Running
6. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running
7. (8) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, Running
8. (16) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 200, Running
9. (21) Colton Herta, Honda, 200, Running
10. (2) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 200, Running
11. (18) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Chevrolet, 200, Running
12. (27) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 200, Running
13. (25) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 200, Running
14. (14) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 200, Running
15. (20) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 200, Running
16. (9) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 200, Running
17. (24) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running
18. (32) Jack Harvey, Honda, 199, Running
19. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 198, Running
20. (13) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 197, Contact
21. (11) Benjamin Pedersen (R), Chevrolet, 196, Contact
22. (33) Graham Rahal, Chevrolet, 195, Running
23. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 195, Running
24. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 192, Contact
25. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 192, Contact
26. (26) Agustin Canapino (R), Chevrolet, 192, Contact
27. (3) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 183, Contact
28. (15) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 183, Contact
29. (23) David Malukas, Honda, 160, Contact
30. (19) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 149, Contact
31. (31) Sting Ray Robb (R) Honda, 90, Contact
32. (28) RC Enerson (R), Chevrolet, 75, Mechanical
33. (29) Katherine Legge, Honda, 41, Contact