While the ending of the 107th running of the Indy 500 was deemed controversial, it could have been even more bizarre, according to champion Josef Newgarden.
The fact that IndyCar decided to fly the green flag the lap after the third red flag ended, without running the usual pace lap (or laps), to ensure that Sunday afternoon’s 107th running of the Indy 500 ended under green became a huge talking point, to the point where some considered the ending to be controversial.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson was the race leader during the red flag with two laps remaining.
Given the fact that IndyCar usually runs multiple pace laps before resuming a race under a red flag — as they had done after each of the previous two red flags — many believed that the race would end under caution and he would be the race winner.
An Ericsson victory would have made him the first driver to win the Indy 500 in two straight years since Helio Castroneves won the race in 2001 and 2002.
But the green flag and white flag flew on the same lap, and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden became just the third driver to win the Indy 500 with a last-lap pass for the lead.
He made the move past Ericsson’s No. 8 Honda coming down the back straightaway on lap 200 around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
However, with all things considered, the third red flag served as somewhat of an equalizer. Had IndyCar ended the Indy 500 under caution, the finish might have been even more controversial.
It certainly would have been more “peculiar” and “bizarre”, according to Newgarden, who acknowledged that IndyCar very well could have ended the race with him running in second place.
“It’s hard to say,” Newgarden told Beyond the Flag when asked if he thought that the race might not get going again. “I think it would have been tough if they ended it that way.”
Ericsson claimed that the finish was “unfair and dangerous”, given the fact that no Indy 500 had gone from red to green without at least one pace lap. Consistency in this regard would have meant that the race ended under yellow, with Ericsson the winner and Newgarden in second place.
Newgarden even admitted that he would have felt the same way had he been the leader at the time. But had the race ended under yellow, Ericsson’s “pass” for the lead would have come on a restart that really didn’t happen, since the caution came out so quickly when multiple cars crashed before the yard of bricks.
“We didn’t even really get restarted, so it would have been kind of a peculiar ending for everyone on that one,” Newgarden explained. “I think it would have been a bizarre ending to the 500.”
It certainly would have been a strange way to lose an Indy 500, even though it technically would have been well within the rulebook. Ericsson did overtake Newgarden just before the caution flag flew, but there wasn’t really any true “racing” between the restart and the multi-car crash at the back of the field which triggered the stoppage.
But Newgarden agrees with pretty much every IndyCar fan in that a precedent has now been set. If there is any more than one lap remaining, race control should do everything possible to ensure a green flag finish.
“They’ve set a precedent now, certainly over the last multiple years, that they want to end the race under green at all costs, or pretty much any possibility, they’re going to try to give a green flag to finish the race, and so I was happy they did that,” Newgarden said.
Speaking objectively, Newgarden is a fan of that precedent.
“I think it was the right thing to do,” he admitted. “I didn’t anticipate three red flags coming out at the end of the race! You just can’t ever predict how it’s gonna shape up, but I was really pleased that the last red flag restart was a great shootout and we ended under green.
“There’s really no shame in winning a race under any circumstance, even if it’s under yellow, but I think winning it under green was a little extra special.”
The 108th running of the Indy 500 is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 27, 2024.