Indy 500: This year's Josef Newgarden could be his old team owner

After two decades, Ed Carpenter is still in search of his first Indy 500 win. Like Josef Newgarden a year ago, he too isn't stressed about it.
Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing, Indy 500, IndyCar
Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing, Indy 500, IndyCar / Gary Mook/For IndyStar / USA TODAY

Team Penske's Josef Newgarden entered last year's Indy 500 with no wins in 11 tries at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, fourth most among active drivers.

His career win total at the time was 26, and that total alone accounted for nearly half of the win total of the entire Indy 500 field among the drivers who had not yet won the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" at any point in their careers.

For several years, IndyCar's top oval driver had been asked why he couldn't check off this box and win the 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana oval. His best finish was a third place effort in 2016, back when he was driving for Ed Carpenter Racing, and his top finish with Roger Penske's team was fourth in 2019.

Days before the 107th running last May, at a time when he had won at every other oval on the IndyCar schedule three times since 2019 alone, Newgarden spoke to Beyond the Flag about the challenges of this race in particular.

“You know, it’s just such a complex race,” Newgarden said. “It’s not as simple as everywhere else we go. There’s obviously a lot more pressure, but I think it’s more than that. It just puts more emphasis on getting the details right, more than anywhere else.

“The field is so close here that pit stops are really critical, your strategy is really critical, and your car, its consistency, the way that it drives in traffic; [the track is] kind of a one-lane race track in most ways, when we’re outside of the restarts, that the car’s consistency is really important here, more so than other tracks.

“It’s just a tough race to win; there’s a lot that can go wrong. Everybody feels the pressure on race day here, and you have to have everything go perfectly. There’s just no way around that, like really just have to have a perfect day, and there’s only one team, one driver, who’s going to be able to do that. And I think that’s what makes it so special if you’re able to finally achieve it.”

A few days later, Newgarden won the race in his 12th attempt, doing so with just the third pass for the win on the final lap in Indy 500 history.

Skip ahead 12 months, and the three drivers who entered last year's race having made more Indy 500 attempts than Newgarden without a win are all back again.

Newgarden's old team owner, Ed Carpenter, leads that group, which also consists of Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal. The three-time polesitter is set to make his 21st career Indy 500 start after qualifying in 17th place.

Newgarden started 17th last year.

After winning last year's race, Newgarden admitted that he had reached a point in his career where he had come to accept the fact that he may never win the Indy 500. It helped him to relax, it took away some of the pressure that had been building every year he didn't win, and it allowed him to get the most out of himself on race day.

Carpenter is taking a similar approach entering year number 21, and he is doing so ironically by not thinking about it the same way his former driver did.

"I think every year is a little different," Carpenter told Beyond the Flag. "There have been years that I've gone into this race feeling like we had the absolute best car and best chance of winning, and had it not pan out. There have been years when I didn't feel as confident as I wanted to be, and we've had really good races.

It's more of a "whatever happens, happens" mentality. And Carpenter, whose first 20 Indy 500 starts have included starts from all but two of the 11 rows on the 33-car grid, is okay with that.

"So I try to just take all the experience I have from all my starts and be prepared for whatever comes at us on Sunday. I would say as time goes on, I worry less about where I start and more so just what I have under me.

"It's such a long race. There are so many opportunities to work your way to the front, so not really stressed about that. Just want to make sure we get a good clean start and then start executing our game plan."

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NBC is set to provide live coverage of the 108th running of the Indy 500 beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET this Sunday, May 26. The green flag is scheduled to fly shortly after 12:30 p.m. ET, weather permitting. Start a free trial of FuboTV today if you have not already had the chance to do so!