Indy 500: How a simple change in mindset ended a 22-year drought

Josef Newgarden is now 2-0 in the Indy 500 since accepting the fact that he might never win the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing".
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar / James Gilbert/GettyImages

Entering the 2023 Indy 500, Team Penske's Josef Newgarden had accounted for 26 of the 61 IndyCar victories in the field of 33, among the drivers who had never won the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Prior to his 12th career Indy 500 attempt, the Hendersonville, Tennessee native was the driver whom everybody kept asking why he couldn't win it. No other active non-Indy 500 winner had more than seven victories at the time.

Newgarden, IndyCar's oval ace, entered last year's Indy 500 having won at every other oval track on the series' schedule three times since 2019 alone. But his best finish in the Indy 500 was third place, and that happened when he was driving for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2016. His best finish in six starts with Team Penske was fourth in 2019.

With just the third last lap pass for the lead in the history of the 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana oval, Newgarden finally earned the right to have his likeness added to the Borg-Warner Trophy last year.

He admitted afterward that he had come to terms with the fact that he might not ever win the Indy 500, and it was that mindset which allowed him to relax and simply enjoy the experience, taking pressure off of himself to go for a result in the process.

This year, he took a similar approach as a former winner. And it once again paid off, and it paid off in the form of yet another last lap pass for the victory.

"I think so, yeah; actually, I do think there's truth to that," Newgarden told Beyond the Flag. "I went into the race just excited to race, simply. We were there on the grid, we had an opportunity to win, and that's all I wanted to focus on, and so it was a very fun race.

"I definitely enjoyed myself, and it makes a difference when that's your focus; instead of having to secure a result, you're focused on the opportunity."

While there were some differences between his battle with Marcus Ericsson last year and his battle with Pato O'Ward this year, both culminated with a move to the outside coming down the back straightaway.

Newgarden spoke about what it was like to effectively experience history repeating itself.

"It did feel surreal," he said. "I had no expectation to win this race, and I think it was a team victory through and through. You can't win the Indianapolis 500 without the fastest car and the best team. I think I had that on the day, and I couldn't believe we pulled it off. Coming to the line, right off turn four, it felt just as surreal as the first time, so very, very cool."

While his new and improved, relaxed mindset has resulted in back-to-back Indy 500 victories, something that hadn't happened since the now four-time winner Helio Castroneves won the race in his first two starts back in 2001 and 2002, Newgarden has already thought ahead to the possibility of a three-peat in 2025.

"Definitely," he admitted. "I mean, I'm not going to consume myself with it. It’s such a unique chance to do something like that, and I'll leave it at that. It's a chance and an opportunity if we come back here next year, which we plan to do, so yeah, will be a really cool opportunity."

On that note, one would think that Newgarden's contract talks with Team Penske are heading in the right direction. Perhaps the No. 2 Shell Powering Progress Chevrolet will be back for a third year in a row next year, and perhaps Newgarden will become the first ever back-to-back-to-back Indy 500 winner.

Just five drivers have ever managed back-to-back Indy 500 victories, and none of the five secured a third win in a row. Most recently, Castroneves finished in second place in 2003 after winning the race in 2001 and 2002.

The other back-to-back Indy 500 winners include Al Unser (1970 and 1971), Bill Vukovich (1953 and 1954), Mauri Rose (1947 and 1948), and Wilbur Shaw (1939 and 1940). Unser finished in second place in 1972, Rose finished in 13th in 1949, and Shaw finished in 18th in 1941. Vukovich was killed in a 1955 Indy 500 crash.

dark. Next. IndyCar driver returning for first appearance in seven years. IndyCar driver returning for first appearance in seven years

The 109th running of the Indy 500 is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 25, 2025.