Race Weekend Central

Upon Further Review: The Goods and Bads of May

Josef Newgarden‘s victory in Sunday’s (May 26) 108th Indianapolis 500 put the Tennessee native in rarefied air at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The sixth driver to win the 500 back-to-back, the first American to do it since Al Unser in 1970-1971 and the first driver to win 30 IndyCar races twice.

Yes, that’s a cheap joke about the St. Petersburg disqualification. But I digress.

Newgarden has had a lot of heat on him throughout the spring. After the St. Petersburg Push to Pass scandal, the two-time NTT IndyCar Series Champion hosted a press conference at Barber Motorsports Park in April that did little to help his case. If anything, it hurt it.

Finishing 16th at Barber and 17th at the IMS road course did not bode well for Newgarden’s effort to win his second 500. Then again, that’s why they run the practice sessions, qualifying and the race.

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It was easy to think that Newgarden wasn’t going to be able to get himself out of the funk he was in. However, he was in the top five in the three pre-qualifying practice days before qualifying on the outside of the front row, helping Team Penske lock out the front row for the first time since 1988.

Newgarden was 32nd-fastest on Carb Day, but that was mainly a formality to make sure that the car was working properly. The real test came 48 hours later.

Err, make that 52 hours later.

Mother nature was not kind to Indianapolis in May. Tuesday’s track running was limited to 23 minutes. There were two hours of green flag running on Wednesday while Fast Friday’s practice was under threat of rain but went off without a hitch.

Then came race day and all the uncertainty surrounding it. The forecast became very accurate the closer we got to the public gates being opened, with showers coming to the track around noon.

The Speedway handled the rain incredibly well, announcing well before it took place that they would call for the grandstands to be empty at 11:15 a.m. before any rain got to the track. It was the right call, as rain and massive wind gusts battered the old facility.

After a couple of hours of showers, it was time for the jet driers to do their work, but not before two more positive announcements. The Speeday’s President, Doug Boles, hosted a press conference in the IMS media center and announced that the TV blackout over central Indiana would be lifted due to the inclement weather at the track.

Shortly after that, he announced that, as he understood it, Kyle Larson would be staying for the Indianapolis 500 and skip starting the Coca Cola 600.

Insert the SpongeBob chaos office meme here.

With Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon both in Indianapolis, the eyes of the racing world were now on the intersection of 16th and Polco as the green flag flew shortly before 5 p.m. ET.

Just under three hours later, Newgarden won his second 500 after leading 26 laps and pulling off an incredible pass for the win on Pato O’Ward going through turn 3 on the final lap of the race.

For Newgarden, winning didn’t cure all of his woes. There will always be naysayers. There will always be doubters and there will always be those who will question his integrity.

However, what those people cannot do is question how Newgarden won the race. Newgarden straight stole that win from O’Ward with a pass that not many drivers would be able to pull off. Newgarden deserved that win with how he took the lead on the final lap. There’s no possible argument against it that will hold any water.

While Newgarden celebrated on the main straight with the fans in the stands, O’Ward had to suffer in silence with his team. The young Mexican phenom will have many more chances at Indianapolis, but it is heartbreaking to lose the race within the final mile.

Just ask J.R. Hildebrand or Marco Andretti. Both were within several hundred yards of winning the race in their rookie years before losing on the main straight heading to the checkered flag.

O’Ward will be fine. A win in Detroit will help cure his woes.

Speaking of woes, there were two major ones at IMS on race day. First, there were a few concession stands that ran out of food. This is understandable as the race was delayed for four hours, and with crowds gathered under the grandstands, there were bound to be a few hungry patrons.

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The other massive woe was post race traffic. Maybe it was because of the weather delay, but many race-goers posted on social media that getting out of various parking lots was a much larger-than-anticipated challenge.

Whether it was the North 40 lot, Lot 2 or the media lot outside of the track, complaints of gridlock were commonplace all over. And if it wasn’t gridlock, confusing traffic patterns made things all the more complicated.

My wife and I left the track around 11:10 p.m. and went underneath the track through the tunnel under the south short chute. After going through the roundabout at Main Street in Speedway, police officers directed us through several side streets in the neighborhood surrounding the track.

It was quite confusing, to say the least.

Swinging back to the good side of things, Newgarden won over four million dollars for his winning effort on Sunday as part of a record purse for the 500. However, to keep things balanced, the Rookie of the Year discussion had to take place.

Larson qualified the best out of all the rookies for one of the best teams in the field. He was on course for probably a top-10 finish, but a pit lane speeding penalty in the second half of the race dropped the NASCAR Cup Series champion down the running order.

That plus an early restart mishap did not help Larson in his quest to become the first rookie to win the 500 since Alexander Rossi in 2016. However, Larson did win rookie of the year over Christian Rasmussen who finished 12th.

Larson finished 18th.

While it is true that Larson did better in many aspects of the event, when it comes to the race, he had two critical mistakes that cost him several positions. As for Rasmussen, I can’t recall him making any mistakes at all during the race.

Rasmussen did more with his equipment than Larson did during the race, and that’s why I voted for Rasmussen for Rookie of the Year. With the other criteria in place, it must be asked if there’s any way that Larson doesn’t win rookie of the year over another driver.

Then again, the same could be said about Jimmie Johnson and David Malukas in 2022. Hmm…

Either way, the race itself had the right mix of unpredictability and action that helped give the race a higher TV rating than expected, and who can complain about that?

Just remember that IndyCar is racing this weekend in Detroit, even if it was barely mentioned on the broadcast.

It was mentioned on the 500 broadcast, right?

About the author

Christopher DeHarde has covered IndyCar racing and the Road to Indy for various outlets since 2014. In addition to open wheel racing, DeHarde has also covered IMSA and various short track racing events around Indiana. Originally from New Orleans, DeHarde moved to the Indianapolis area in 2017 to further pursue a career as a motorsports writer.

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Irvan fan

Great recap Christopher. This was my 24th 500, could have done with out the rain, but it was worth the wait.

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