Josef Newgarden repeats as Indy 500 winner

INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden put his cheating scandal behind him to become the first back-to-back winner of the Indianapolis 500 since Helio Castroneves 22 years ago and give Roger Penske a record-extending 20th win in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

The Tennessean passed Pato O’Ward on the final lap of Sunday’s rain-delayed race to become the first driver to win consecutive 500s since Castroneves did it for Penske in 2001 and 2002. And just like last year, Newgarden stopped his Chevrolet-powered car on the track and climbed through a hole in the fence to celebrate with fans in the grandstands.

“I love this crowd. I’ve got to always go in the crowd if we win here, I am always doing that,” Newgarden said.

O’Ward slumped his head over his steering wheel in bitter disappointment. He was trying to become the first Mexican in 108 runnings to win the Indy 500.

It looked as if he had been crying when he finally removed his helmet. He finished sixth in his Indy 500 debut, then fourth and then second in 2022 when he was accused of not being aggressive enough to race Marcus Ericsson for the win.

He refused to back down last year and wound up crashing as he raced for the win. As O’Ward bided his time in the closing laps — he and Newgarden traded the lead several times — he waited to make the winning pass on the final lap.

Newgarden got it right back two turns later.

“It is hard to put it into words — we went back, we went forward, we went back, some people were driving like maniacs,” O’Ward said. “We had so many near-race enders. Just so close again. … I put that car through things I never thought it was going to be able to do. It is always a heartbreak when you’re so close, especially when it’s not the first time and you don’t know how many opportunities you have.”

The win was an incredible bounceback for Newgarden, who last month had his March season-opening victory disqualified because Team Penske had illegal push-to-pass software on its cars. Newgarden used the additional horsepower three times in the win and it took IndyCar nearly six weeks to discover the Penske manipulation.

Roger Penske, who owns the race team, IndyCar, the Indy 500 and the speedway, suspended four crew members, including Team President Tim Cindric. The Cindric suspension was a massive blow for Newgarden as Cindric is considered the best strategist in the series.

Newgarden was thrilled to have the win and put the push-to-pass scandal behind him.

“Absolutely, they can say what they want, I don’t even care anymore,” he said.

The start of the race was delayed four hours by rain and it ruined NASCAR star Kyle Larson’s chance to run “The Double.” The delay in Indy made him miss the start of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Although Larson was decent most of the day, two rookie mistakes led to an 18th-place finish. He was on a helicopter headed to a plane for North Carolina within minutes of the race ending.

“I’m proud to have finished but disappointed in myself,” said Larson, who has a two-year deal with Arrow McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports for Indy and could return in 2025.

Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing finished third as the highest-finishing Honda driver and was followed by Alexander Rossi, O’Ward’s teammate at Arrow McLaren Racing. Chevrolet took three of the top four spots.