Indy 500: Josef Newgarden’s two biggest ‘what-ifs’

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar(Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar(Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

Josef Newgarden had come close to winning the Indy 500 multiple times before finally doing so with a last-lap pass in 2023.

The 107th running of the Indy 500 was not the first Indy 500 during which Josef Newgarden ran up front and was a serious contender for the win. But in attempt number 12, it was the first time he actually came out on top and got to drink the milk.

Newgarden became the third driver in Indy 500 history to win the race with a last-lap pass for the lead, going around reigning winner Marcus Ericsson on the back straightaway following a lap 200 restart at the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana oval.

After the exciting victory, he spoke about some of the “what-ifs” that he had experienced at the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading up to his breakthrough triumph.

“I definitely have had years where I was close,” Newgarden told Beyond the Flag. “I think 2016 was a very close year for us. It was the 100th running, it’s the year Alexander Rossi won on fuel mileage, and we didn’t even know it was happening until the race was over. That one always comes to my mind.”

Alexander Rossi managed to stretch his final tank of fuel all the way to the end of the race, to the point where it looked like he crossed the finish line in slow motion. Carlos Munoz, who finished in second place, took a whopping 16 seconds out of Rossi’s lead on the final lap, but it wasn’t enough.

Newgarden finished just behind Munoz in third place and was poised to challenge for the Indy 500 victory all afternoon.

“And then I think 2019, when my teammate, Simon Pagenaud, won the race, was one that I felt like I didn’t maximize the opportunity,” Newgarden said, referring to his eventual fourth place finish. “I had a great car that day, I was in the fight, I was up front at the very end, and I just wasn’t able to get the job done.”

Newgarden made the first true pass for the lead late in that race, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. Pagenaud beat out Rossi and Takuma Sato for the victory that afternoon.

All-time IndyCar wins list. dark. Next

“So to come back here — it’s hard every year to leave here when you don’t win, it definitely breaks your heart,” Newgarden admitted. “So I just think I’ve gotten to a point where I didn’t want to leave anything on the table anymore and I wanted to at least leave knowing that everything was put on the line.”