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Newgarden salvages his season with an Indy 500 win on a last-lap defeat of a heartbroken O’Ward – Metro US

Newgarden salvages his season with an Indy 500 win on a last-lap defeat of a heartbroken O’Ward

IndyCar Indy 500 Auto Racing
Roger Penske and Josef Newgarden pose with the Borg-Warner Trophy during the traditional winners photo session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Monday, May 27, 2024, in Indianapolis. Newgarden won the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race Sunday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As Roger Penske investigated the cheating incident that cost Josef Newgarden his IndyCar season-opening victory, never did Newgarden worry about his job security at Team Penske.

He had too much else to worry about, Newgarden insisted, and helping his boss understand how Newgarden illegally used extra boosts of horsepower to win the March opening race was a bigger priority.

Penske, for his part, said he stood behind the 33-year-old from Tennessee and was working on a contract extension for Newgarden beyond this eighth season with the organization.

One way to ensure a new deal is by winning the Indianapolis 500, which Newgarden did Sunday after a four-hour rain delay. His pass of Pato O’Ward two corners from the finish line gave Penske a record-extending 20th Indy 500 victory and made Newgarden the first back-to-back winner since Helio Castroneves did it for Penske in 2001-02.

As he contemplated his accomplishment — he now has 30 career wins and is a two-time IndyCar season champion — Newgarden went so far as to say “I’m grateful for the experience” regarding the Penske cheating scandal. Some six weeks after Newgarden’s victory in St. Petersburg, Florida, IndyCar discovered the three Penske cars had an illegal version of the push-to-pass software installed that allowed their drivers to use the horsepower boost when no others in the field had access to the advantage.

IndyCar stripped Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin of their first- and third-place finishes and fined all three Penske drivers, even though Will Power never illegally used the function. Penske then suspended four crew members, including team president Tim Cindric, the best strategist in IndyCar who calls Newgarden’s races.

“It’s been a very illuminating experience to me, more from the outside world. I know what I take from that personally. I know what it showed me, which I’m thankful for,” Newgarden said. “I think it’s an experience that it’s got to either break you or toughen you up.

“We’ve been moving forward. We’ve never worked together more as a group than this weekend, and I thought that was difficult to do. This is the most tight-knit team I’ve ever seen. I’ve never had it better than this month.”

As Newgarden repeated last year’s victory celebration by climbing through a hole in a fence to join fans in the grandstands, a devastated O’Ward sobbed inside his race car.

He was trying to become the first Mexican winner in 108 runnings of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and instead wound up with his second runner-up finish in three years. In 2022, he was accused of not being aggressive enough to beat Marcus Ericsson, and last year he was too aggressive and wrecked while racing Ericsson for the win.

O’Ward finished sixth in his Indy 500 debut and fourth the next year. So five tries and five near-misses left him inconsolable as his Arrow McLaren Racing team tried to comfort the 25-year-old.

It was an odd scene for O’Ward, who admittedly wears his emotions on his sleeve but typically is the most upbeat driver in the paddock. Come Monday, he announced on social media that he was feeling much better.

“I woke up with a big smile on my face today, feeling very loved by all of you,” he wrote on a carousel of photos showing his postrace dejection. “Wouldn’t change a thing about my journey so far. I know it will be so special the day my name is written among the stars and I get to experience the magic everyone talks about.”

His face was tear-stained and his eyes swollen in the postrace news conference, but O’Ward was stoic. He said he didn’t need to watch a replay of the final lap to see what he could have done differently to hold off Newgarden.

“I think in a way I’ve cracked a code and I know how to position myself to win this race. I know I can win this race, and I know that I know how to also protect a good result when maybe the win isn’t in the cards for me,” he said.

He was praised by six-time series champion Scott Dixon, a one-time Indy 500 winner, as well as Newgarden. When IndyCar stripped Newgarden of his St. Pete victory, it went to O’Ward, the initial runner-up, in his only win through five races so far this season.

“He drove me excellently. I’m very thankful for him and the way that he drove. He’s a champion. He’s one of the best competitors we have in this field. He’s a really nice guy,” Newgarden said. “Every time I talk to Pato we have great conversations, and I think we have a lot of respect for each other.

“I’m appreciative for the way that he drives. He drove like a champion in this race and he’s just as deserving of a winner in my opinion. He definitely could have won this race. It’s tough to not win it. I can’t say anything to ease that for him. When you don’t win, it hurts. I’ve left here 11 times prior with a broken heart, so I know the feeling. Whether you’re close or you’re far, it’s a broken heart. I can’t ease that.”


AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing