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Josef Newgarden enters Indy 500 lore with bold last-lap pass for second straight win


Josef Newgarden enters Indy 500 lore with bold last-lap pass for second straight win

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — A year ago, he leapt, he climbed and he screamed.

It was an eruption of emotion, the kind that comes after you win your first Indianapolis 500 in 12 tries. Josef Newgarden parked his No. 2 Penske Chevrolet on the yard of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, climbed from his cockpit, scaled the netting and turned the bleachers lining the front straightaway into a mosh pit.

The scene spoke to how much this race means to those who win it.

“You don’t know if you’re ever gonna win here,” he admitted. “Of course, you can dream about it. How could you not?”

He had. For years. For decades, really. Then Newgarden slogged through five top 10s in his first 11 starts — and that oh-so-close-yet-still-so-far feeling that comes with it — wondering and worrying, like so many others, if he’d ever get to kiss the bricks.

“Whether you’re close or far,” he said, “you leave with (a) broken heart.”

Which is why, when he finally did it, when he finally got to swig the milk, he let it all out.

The climb. The scream. The delirium.

On Sunday, Newgarden leapt and climbed and screamed again, same as he had 12 months prior, because the sequel was just as sweet. It took a gutsy pass on the second-to-last turn of the final lap of the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500, Newgarden darting out wide and squeezing past Pato O’Ward, who’d bolted in front at the start of Lap 200 and wanted, desperately, to end the heartache he’s suffered too many times here.

Newgarden knows that heartache intimately.

“I want to win this race so freaking bad,” a devastated O’Ward said later.

But that’s Indy, where the margin between agony and ecstasy is three-tenths of a second. Newgarden became the first driver to win consecutive 500s in 22 years with a flawless finish, hammering the last quarter of the race with everything he had, then holding off O’Ward by a hair on the final straightaway.

“It was flat-out,” Newgarden said of the home stretch. “No one was lifting (off the gas) or giving up anything. I felt like I was wrecking half the time.”

“We were on offense for the last 60 laps,” added Jonathan Diuguid, Newgarden’s fill-in race strategist.

O’Ward admitted the same thing. He drove for broke, with no intent on finishing second.

The duel across the final 10 laps proved terrific theater, a well-deserved showcase for the 300,000 fans who soldiered through a four-hour weather delay and watched the race finish under the evening twilight. O’Ward passed Newgarden with five to go; Newgarden answered two laps later as the pair separated themselves from contenders Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi. Then O’Ward darted out front as the white flag waved. He looked as quick as any car on the track.

Was this his moment?

Newgarden waited. He had four turns left.

He waited. He had two turns left.

Dixon, a former champ himself, sat in third, hoping the two of them would crash into each other.

When would Newgarden make his move?

And would it work?

Then, just as the two darted into the third turn, he pounced. It was a daring acceleration heading into the short chute, the kind of gamble that either clinches the Borg-Warner Trophy or leads to an embarrassing last-lap crash. It could have cost him everything.

“We were gonna put it all on the line,” Newgarden said. “You have to if you wanna win Indy.”

He was right.

This move paid off. He skirted past O’Ward, then dashed into history.

Newgarden was climbing from his car a moment later, sprinting into the bleachers, the same scene from last May replaying itself down the homestretch of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“There was nothing we were gonna come home and regret,” he beamed a few hours later.

The triumph capped a tumultuous month for Newgarden and the Penske outfit: his season-opening win in St. Petersburg was stripped after he was deemed to have used the illegal push-to-pass maneuver during the race. Further punishment, handed down by Newgarden’s boss, Roger Penske — who doubles as the speedway’s owner and NTT IndyCar series chairman — was severe: four crew members were suspended, including Newgarden’s chief race strategist, Tim Cindric.

Newgarden denied knowingly violating any rules, but it nonetheless was a stumbling start to May for the defending champ. There was even a small smattering of boos at IMS this week aimed in his direction.

Newgarden brushed it off, seeming undeterred.

He drove like it, too.

The No. 2 team had a text chain going throughout the week titled “Indy 500 Domination.”

On Sunday, down two engineers and with Diuguid filling in for Cindric, Newgarden became the first driver since Helio Castroneves in 2002 to successfully defend his title.

Newgarden, rather quickly, is etching himself into Indy lore.

Diuguid, who before Sunday had never been part of an Indianapolis 500 win, told a colleague: “I don’t think we made a single mistake today.”

It sure didn’t seem like it. A messy race early, littered with mistakes and caution flags, settled over the back half. Eventually, Newgarden and O’Ward pulled from the pack, swapping the lead four times over the final 10 laps.

“I have to give hats off to Pato,” Newgarden said. “He could have easily won this race, too, but it just fell our way.”

The last-lap pass gave Penske his record-setting 20th Indianapolis 500 victory as an owner, and Newgarden a $440,000 bonus from BorgWarner for going back-to-back.

Make no mistake, he earned every bit of this one.

“It was a blur,” Newgarden said of the heart-stopping finish. “It was so intense the last 30 laps.”

Same as it was a year ago, when he held off Marcus Ericsson’s bid for back-to-back titles.

Same winner. Same scene. Same celebration.

But 2025 will be different, because next year, the stakes get higher.

Twelve months from now, Newgarden will get the chance to do something no driver’s done in the 113-year history of the world’s most revered auto race.

That’s win three in a row.

(Photo of Josef Newgarden celebrating Sunday’s win: Brian Spurlock / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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