Indy 500 champion thought he was going to wreck (more than once)

Josef Newgarden had more than his fair share of sketchy moments in the closing laps of the 108th running of the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Alexander Rossi, Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Alexander Rossi, Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500, IndyCar / Doug McSchooler/for IndyStar / USA TODAY

Team Penske's Josef Newgarden became just the sixth back-to-back winner in Indy 500 history and the first since Helio Castroneves in 2002 on Sunday afternoon, and he did so with a last lap pass for the victory for the second year in a row.

In the first 106 years of the 200-lap "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in Speedway, Indiana, there had been just two last lap passes for the win.

Newgarden passed Marcus Ericsson heading into turn three in 2023, and he passed Pato O'Ward in turn three in 2024.

The lead changed hands a number of times over the last several laps, which were fortunately contested entirely under green flag conditions. The final stint saw a four-way battle between Newgarden, O'Ward, O'Ward's Arrow McLaren teammate Alexander Rossi, and Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon.

Josef Newgarden admits he almost wrecked

There were lead changes pretty much every lap, though not all of them contributed to the official lead change count of 49, fourth highest in race history, since they only technically count as "lead changes" if the leader of one lap is different from the leader of the next.

The racing at the front of the field was crazy, and even aside from Newgarden's bold move on the outside into turn three on lap 200, the driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet admitted that there were a number of "sketchy moments" when he thought he was going to crash.

"Oh, lots," Newgarden admitted to Beyond the Flag. "Mostly in the last stint. I thought I was going to wreck the car five or six times in the last stint."

Referencing O'Ward's incredible save in turn two a little bit earlier in the race, Newgarden noted that he didn't have anything quite that sketchy during his race.

"Not as aggressive and as crazy as Pato," he stated. "I think he had the most impressive sketchy moment, but I had some pretty big ones too, by measure, and I think that was happening in a couple different spots, or I should say across the board, with most drivers in the final stint."

A lot of that had to do with the track conditions. Due to the rain delay, the race didn't get underway until four hours later than usual.

As a result, the track began to cool down later in the afternoon and into the early evening, giving even the veteran drivers conditions with which they had never dealt at Indianapolis during any race – or even any practice session.

"The track cooled off, it was gaining a lot of grip, mostly front grip, so I think everybody was hanging on and sliding, or at least oversteering, really oversteering, at the end," Newgarden explained.

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But Newgarden didn't wreck, and neither did anybody else. The 46-lap green flag run to the end of the race was the longest since 2021, when a 76-lap run to the end resulted in Castroneves' fourth Indy 500 win.