SPEEDWAY, Ind. – With back-to-back Indianapolis 500 victories on the line, Marcus Ericsson was the leader when the caution flew for a multi-car crash involving Ed Carpenter, Benjamin Pedersen and Graham Rahal. With four laps left in the race, it looked like the 107th running of the Indy 500 would end under caution with Ericsson drinking the milk.
But then, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track PA said that INDYCAR had red-flagged the race to the roar of the crowd. Ericsson would take the green and white flags when the race resumed, and just one lap stood in the way of back-to-back wins for the Swede.
Well, one lap and two-time NTT IndyCar Series Josef Newgarden. The No. 2 car took the white flag in second, and it soon became a game of disrupting the draft as Ericsson and Newgarden zigzagged left and right across the frontstretch.
Newgarden was right behind Ericsson out of turn 2, and he had enough momentum to complete the pass heading into turn 3. Ericsson had the momentum, however, and it was a drag race between the two to the yard of bricks.
Ericsson was right there, but it was too little, too late as Newgarden claimed his first 500 win with the No. 8 car trailing by just under a tenth of a second.
Before discussing the final lap, Ericsson first took the time to congratulate Newgarden and compliment his team.
“Yeah, first of all, congrats to Josef and Team Penske on the win,” Ericsson said. “I know how he feels, so congrats to them.
“I’m very happy with my performance, with our performance. I think we did an awesome race. I had a great car, great strategy, pit stops. Tough restarts and good restarts. Had a lot of fun out there.”
With 52 lead changes and back and forth battles, Ericsson knew that keeping the lead on the restart was a tall order.
“I knew for that last restart it was going to be almost impossible to keep the lead,” Ericsson said. “Like I said, I think I did a great job there on the restart of catching him by surprise and get a jump and not get overtaken into [turn] 1, because every restart it felt like P1 was going to P5 on every restart.
“I think I aced that restart, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
However, Ericsson was critical of the race control decision to display the red flag for a one-lap shootout, citing cold tires and limited pace laps between the red flag and the final restart.
“I think it wasn’t enough laps to go to do what we did,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’s safe to go out of the pits on cold tires for a restart when half the field is sort of still trying to get out on track when we go green. I don’t think it’s a fair way to end the race. I don’t think it’s a right way to end the race. So, I can’t agree with that.
“They should have called [the red flag] earlier,” Ericsson said. “If they wanted red, they should have called red earlier. I think when they kept it going [under caution], then I think they should have called it.
“But I’m sure Josef doesn’t agree with that and thinks that way, but that’s just the way I thought. I thought it was too tight to do the last red, yeah.”
Ericsson was correct in believing that Newgarden would feel differently about the end it. Newgarden was happy with the win and a good finish, but he also understood the gripes that Ericsson had from his shoes.
“Well, I’m happy they did it to give a good finish,” Newgarden said. “Obviously if I was in Marcus’ situation, I would have said, yeah, just end it. …
“There’s so many different ways that this could have played out and you could have said this is fair or that’s fair. I’ve seen it all. At this point I’m just really thankful they did it the way they did. I’m glad I had the car. I don’t really care. I’ve seen a lot of situations where it didn’t go our way. Today went our way, and I’ll take it. I’ll take it all day.”
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.