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Newgarden goes back-to-back at Indy 500 to give Roger Penske record-extending 20th win

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Josef Newgarden once again brought his victorious Team Penske car to a stop on the Yard of Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He found that same hole in the fence, climbed through, and was pummeled by fans celebrating his second consecutive Indianapolis 500 triumph.

Everything about his victory Sunday — right down to the last-lap duel, this time with Pato O’Ward — seemed just like last year.

The only difference was the circumstances.

A year ago, Newgarden was the hard-luck driver who had accomplished so much yet never won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” On Sunday, he was the superstar winning the race in the shadow of a cheating scandal that kept his race strategist from even being inside the speedway for the rain-delayed race.

Newgarden put the cheating scandal behind him to become the first back-to-back winner of the Indy 500 since Helio Castroneves 22 years ago and give Roger Penske a record-extending 20th win in the biggest race in the world.

The Tennessean passed O’Ward on the final lap to become the first driver to win consecutive 500s since Castroneves did it for Penske in 2001 and 2002. Newgarden also celebrated last year by climbing through a hole in the fence to celebrate with fans in the grandstands.

“I love this crowd. I’ve got to always go in the crowd if we win here, I am always doing that,” said Newgarden, who earned a $440,000 bonus from trophy-maker BorgWarner for winning consecutive 500s. The award was established in 1995 and only claimed once, by Castroneves.

Penske had been watching the race high above the speedway and pumped his arm in celebration as Newgarden crossed the finish line. He then hugged his wife. It took less than an hour for the placard that designates Penske’s parking spot inside the speedway to be changed from “19” to “20.”

O’Ward slumped his head over his steering wheel in bitter disappointment. He was trying to become the first Mexican in 108 runnings to win the Indy 500.

It looked as if he had been crying when he finally removed his helmet. He finished sixth in his Indy 500 debut, then fourth and then second in 2022 when he was accused of not being aggressive enough to race Marcus Ericsson for the win.

He refused to back down last year and wound up crashing as he went for the victory. As O’Ward bided his time in the closing laps — he and Newgarden traded the lead several times — he waited to make the winning pass on the final lap.

Newgarden got it right back two turns later.

“It is hard to put it into words — we went back, we went forward, we went back, some people were driving like maniacs,” O’Ward said. “We had so many near-race enders. Just so close again. … I put that car through things I never thought it was going to be able to do. It is always a heartbreak when you’re so close, especially when it’s not the first time and you don’t know how many opportunities you have.”

O’Ward has finished second to Newgarden in six different races and was still struggling with his emotions an hour after the race. He said he’s battled the flu the last week and barely slept the last five days.

“I’m fine. It’s been a tough month, so much goes into this race,” O’Ward said. “I think I’m somebody who wears my heart on my sleeve. I don’t really hide anything. And it’s just, when you come so close, and it just doesn’t seem to happen, it’s just a lot of emotion.”

He said he deliberately took his time getting out of the car and removing his helmet because “I just wanted to calm down. It was wet in there.”

Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing finished third as the highest-finishing Honda driver and had empathy for O’Ward. Dixon is a six-time IndyCar champion who is considered the greatest driver of his era, and he has one win in the Indy 500.

“It’s a privilege to race here, right? I’m in a situation where I’m lucky to have won, but Pato has come close a few times,” Dixon said. “It can go in cycles. As I’ve said many a times, finishing second sucks. It’s horrible. You’d rather finish last I think almost at this place and be out of the race early. He’ll be fine. He’s got plenty of time on his hands.”

The win was an incredible rebound for Newgarden, who last month had his March season-opening victory disqualified because Team Penske had illegal push-to-pass software on its cars. Newgarden used the additional horsepower three times in the win, and it took IndyCar nearly six weeks to discover the Penske manipulation.

Roger Penske, who owns the race team, IndyCar, the Indy 500 and the speedway, suspended four crew members, including Team President Tim Cindric. The Cindric suspension was a massive blow for Newgarden as Cindric is considered the best strategist in the series.

Newgarden was thrilled to have the win and put the push-to-pass scandal behind him.

“Absolutely, they can say what they want, I don’t even care anymore,” he said. “It’s always a team win. This win epitomizes a team victory. I’m thankful for Roger Penske, he stood by me. He’s the man. He’s a legend.”

The start of the race was delayed four hours by rain and it ruined NASCAR star Kyle Larson’s chance to run “ The Double.” The delay in Indy made him miss the start of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Although Larson was decent most of the day, two rookie mistakes led to an 18th-place finish. He was on a helicopter headed to a plane for North Carolina within minutes of the race ending.

“I’m proud to have finished but disappointed in myself,” said Larson, who has a two-year deal with Arrow McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports for Indy and could return in 2025.

Dixon was followed by Alexander Rossi, O’Ward’s teammate at Arrow McLaren Racing. Chevrolet took three of the top four spots.

A first-lap crash took out Ericsson, the 2022 winner, Tom Blomqvist and Pietro Fittipaldi as three Honda drivers failed to complete a lap. In all, Honda drivers finished in the final seven spots.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer

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