Josef Newgarden Wins Red Flag-Ridden 2023 Indy 500
With over 500 passes in 500 miles, the iconic race once again lived up to its title as the greatest spectacle in racing.
Josef Newgarden won the 2023 Indianapolis 500, besting Marcus Ericsson in the closing stages of the iconic race. The 107th running of the 500 enjoyed abnormally cool weather, with the ambient temperature peaking around 80 degrees—considerably lower than the usual 90s. But while the field of 33 got a bit of a break with the cooler temperatures, they didn't get a literal break until lap 92 when a crash involving Sting Ray Robb brought out the race's first yellow flag.
This yellow ended pole-sitter Alex Palou's hopes of winning the race, as Rinus Veekay lost control of his car leaving the pit lane and crashed into the IndyCar champ. Somewhat ironic considering the two started the race next to each other in first and second position. This wasn't the first heartbreak of the race, as Graham Rahal's nightmarish 2023 continued when his car failed to fire up on the grid. The second-generation racer had to be pushed into the pits for a battery change, then rejoin the field several laps down.
The race was restarted precisely at the halfway mark, lap 100, with Arrow McLaren's Felix Rosenqvist quickly jumping to the lead in his throwback-liveried race car. Pato O'Ward regained the lead a few laps later, solidifying the young star's chances to win the race after finishing second in 2022. The McLarens were putting on a good show, with Rossi running steadily in the top 10 and Tony Kanaan putting all four wheels on the grass to pass Penske's Scott McLaughlin after the New Zealander forced him out down the back straight. The risky move sent the crowd onto their feet cheering in favor of Indy's beloved Brazilian.
O'Ward held the lead with just 200 miles to go, but Rosenqvist and Andretti Autosport's Colton Herta and Foyt's Santino Ferruci were beginning to put pressure on the young Mexican. However, on lap 137 Herta and teammate Romain Grosjean came together in the pit lane. Herta was ultimately forced to serve a drive-thru penalty on lap 138, severely damaging the young American's chances of winning the race.
Romain Grosjean brought his race to an end when he lost control of his car and smashed into the SAFER barrier on Turn 2, bringing out another yellow flag. This triggered another pit-stop rush, which saw race leader Marcus Ericsson come into the boxes, as well as O'Ward and other contenders. However, 12 of the cars on the lead lap did not come in, choosing to flip their strategies in a bid to get to the front.
Everyone came back full force on lap 157 when the green flag was waved, with Penske's Josef Newgarden jumping to the front of the pack. Veteran winners Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon were flying under the radar at this point, sitting in ninth and 10th place respectively. If there's someone you should never write off at the 500—or any other race—it's Dixon. Sato isn't very far off either.
Will Power brushed the wall on lap 169, forcing the one-time race winner into the pits. With just 30 laps to go, it was an even number of Hondas and Chevys in the top six—a very different story to recent years when Honda was the dominant engine manufacturer.
By lap 180, the race already held the second-best record for the total number of leaders at 14; the record being 15. The count for passes throughout the race stood at a mighty 500—about 490 more than the Monaco F1 Grand Prix earlier in the day.
Leader O'Ward pit for a splash of fuel, promoting Ericsson to the lead and Ryan Hunter-Reay to second. With 17 to go, O'Ward was muscling his way up the field, pulling off a surprisingly risky move to pass his teammate Rosenqvist.
With 16 laps to go, Rosenqvist made contact with the wall and lost control of his car, spinning his racer all the way around. Kyle Kirkwood clipped him and was sent flying into the air in dramatic fashion, with his Honda landing upside down and dragging along the wall. Emergency crews arrived at the site immediately and helped Kirkwood climb out of the car, much to the fan's relief. The race was immediately red-flagged.
After a roughly 30-minute wait, the race was restarted for a wild eight-lap shootout. Joseph Newgarden pushed his way to first place on the outside of turn 1, leaving O'Ward and Ericsson to fight each other. A few moments later O'Ward lost the rear end trying to pass Ericsson and suffered a big shunt that saw him go airborne. The crash triggered several other wrecks involving Agustin Canapino and Simon Pagenaud. A second red flag was waved with just six laps to go, though this time it was Newgarden who sat at the front of the field. A third red flag followed after Ed Carpenter and another A.J. Foyt crashed along the main straightaway during the red start. Ericsson was in first place this time around, giving the impression that the popular Scandinavian racer was set for a second 500 win.
After a one-lap shootout, in which Newgarden masterfully passed Ericsson for the lead, it would ultimately be a 19th 500 win for Penske and the first for Newgarden. While it may have been Palou, Veekay, and O'Ward who were the favorites to win, Newgarden and Penske drove a smart, efficient, and extremely precise race. Their efforts paid off.
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