IndyCar: Who takes Josef Newgarden's place in Indy 500 debate?

With Josef Newgarden finally winning the Indy 500 last year, who takes his place as the driver whom everybody always asks why they haven't won it yet?
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar / James Gilbert/GettyImages

For the longest time, Team Penske's Josef Newgarden had been the most successful active IndyCar driver without an Indy 500 victory. His Indy 500 win last May was the 27th victory of his career and 24th since he joined Roger Penske's team in 2017.

Immediately following Newgarden's last-lap pass on then-reigning Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson for the win, all active drivers with more than seven career wins had won the Indy 500 at some point in their careers.

That's a pretty big gap to 26, where Newgarden sat before his memorable victory.

Who is going to be the next "go-to" driver in terms of everybody constantly asking why he hasn't won an Indy 500 yet?

Newgarden admitted that it's hard to narrow down the list, considering just how competitive IndyCar is and how many capable drivers the series has these days, but he highlighted two drivers in particular.

“Yeah, it's hard to say," Newgarden admitted to Beyond the Flag. "I think they ask that to a lot of people, at least that's what it seems like if you've been around a while and haven't won it. There are multiple drivers; that's sort of the way it's looked at. It's hard to say off the top of my head."

Josef Newgarden's two picks have both secured runner-up finishes in the Indy 500 since 2021.

"I think [Pato] O’Ward is definitely someone who I could easily say is going to be in the fight," Newgarden continued. "He always is every year, so I wouldn't be surprised for him to contend and win the race. But there are so many people who you can list.

"There are just not a lot of weak links in the field anymore. I think Alex Palou has been incredible at the speedway, and provided he's got the car, he should be in the fight too. So it's just so hard for me to list off just one person.”

O'Ward, who placed second in 2022 and led the most laps in 2023, has five career IndyCar victories. Palou, the 2021 and 2023 IndyCar champion who placed second in the 2021 race, had five at this time last year; he now has 10 and finds himself as the new wins leader among active full-time drivers without an Indy 500 win.

Next on the list is Colton Herta, who has seven wins. Herta holds this spot despite having never won a single oval race. Palou hasn't either, while O'Ward is a two-time oval champion.

Of the 33 drivers in the 2024 Indy 500, 25 have never won the race. Those 25 drivers include 11 IndyCar race winners, and those 11 drivers have combined for 43 career IndyCar victories.

Had Newgarden not won last year, that number would be over 70 victories, which puts into perspective just how "due" many had long thought he was. Now his quest is to become the first back-to-back winner since the now-four-time winner Helio Castroneves won the Indy 500 in his first two starts back in 2001 and 2002.

Indy 500: Josef Newgarden's next step in IndyCar is clear. dark. Next. Indy 500: Josef Newgarden's next step in IndyCar is clear

After back-to-back first-time Indy 500 winners emerged in 2022 and 2023, will a third in a row emerge in 2024? Which driver has taken over Newgarden's spot as being the most "due" to drink the milk? NBC is set to provide live coverage of the 108th running of the Indy 500 from Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 26. Start a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss it!