NASCAR Cup Series
Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden 1-on-1: 'The final pass was like hold your breath'
NASCAR Cup Series

Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden 1-on-1: 'The final pass was like hold your breath'

Published May. 30, 2024 12:09 p.m. ET

NEW YORK — For the first time in 22 years, the Indianapolis 500 has a back-to-back champion.

Josef Newgarden accomplished the feat with an amazing last-lap pass that capped a wild day Sunday in Indianapolis, where storms delayed the start by four hours.

Newgarden's season has been anything but smooth. Six weeks after his victory at St. Petersburg, IndyCar stripped him of the win because of push-to-pass software that gives boost to the car was active on restarts when it was not supposed to be used. The scandal resulted in Team Penske suspending four staff members (including Newgarden strategist/team president Tim Cindric) for Indianapolis and raised questions about Newgarden's integrity.

During the winner's media tour in New York on Tuesday, Newgarden sat down with FOX Sports to talk about the big win, the controversy, his avoidance of social media and whether he wants to race in NASCAR and do The Double.


Did you have any difficulty with that four-hour rain delay and not knowing if the race was going to happen, whether it was going to three or four hours or 24 hours?

It was a very bizarre day because you wake up 8 a.m. and then the race is supposed to be around noon. And you can already see when you wake up that the storm is coming, and it's probably going to affect the race, but we have to wait until noon for the storm to hit. So it's like you see the reality coming towards you and you have to wait for it. When it finally got to Indianapolis, we're like this is not looking good. I really thought we were going to be racing on Monday. Then I took a nap — my son was scheduled to take a nap. And basically right when the rain hit, I took one with him for an hour and a half. Then when I woke up, the rain was gone. And it cleared out. And then they said, "We're looking good, maybe we can go racing." So it was sort of a roller coaster of emotions because I'd almost convinced myself that this was going to move to Monday — and then you see OK now we're going to ramp back up and do it ... It was a little bit of mental gymnastics throughout the day trying to get ourselves in the right spot.

Speaking of mental gymnastics, I saw you said that you tried to forget the fact that you won the race a year ago? How can you forget that you won the biggest race of your life?

I didn't try and forget the race win. The thing that happened to me was last year, I had let go of the thought of winning the Indy 500 because it's so difficult to get. It was my 12th attempt and I had to be OK with the fact that we may never win it. I just think you have to get yourself in that position. When I was sort of there, we finally broke through and we got it to go our way just as we needed to. And I think once you finally win it, you have to stay in the same mental space where you don't expect to win it ever again. It's a big honor to win it and to get it right. But that might be your only opportunity. And so I just tried to focus on enjoying the race itself, the opportunity that we're in the field. It's sort of already enough if you're there, you qualify for the race — that should be enough at the end of the day. The win is really the bonus. Don't focus on the win. Just focus on that opportunity.

Did you think Pato O'Ward was surprised by where you made that winning move in Turn 3?

I don't know if he was surprised by it. He made his decision at the end on where he wanted to go. And I don't think it's easy to understand where the right place and right time to make your move is. It's interesting where Pato passed me was where I wanted to pass him on the final lap — I wanted to pass him on the front straightaway because I thought he was struggling to get a run back on me off of [Turns] 1-2. And he was probably thinking the same thing. So as soon as he went by, I said, "I've got to get a run on him immediately. I can't wait until Turn 4. And whatever run I get, I have to take," and that's what I did. Once I had a decent enough run, he made me go to the outside and I said, "I got to have to stick with it. I'm not going to let it go." I think a little bit of risk is required to win that race. 

Josef Newgarden on daring last-lap pass to win the Indy 500

You also made a daring pass earlier on Santino Ferrucci during the race. Which was more daring, making the pass (on arguably the more unpredictable) Ferrucci or veteran Pato O'Ward?

Definitely the final pass. The final pass was like hold your breath — this is either going to work or this is going to end really badly. And I remember that being in my mind. I went to the outside and I was just gauging where Pato was and I said, "All right, I have to give him enough room. He's not going to lift either." So I just tried to wait until I absolutely cleared him before I got down at the apex a little bit more — and still didn't try and completely squeeze him. He drove me very fair. He gave me racing room so full credit to him. He's a true champion and someone that I think is one of the best in the sport. It takes two to tango. You can't just make that move work with anybody. But the final one was definitely the most hold your breath. I just didn't know if that was going to fully work out and just lucky enough that it did.

Did you have a feeling you were going to be in that position to make a pass for the win over last 40-50-60 laps or were you wondering whether you had something for them at the finish?

It was up and down. The beginning of the race, the first 100 laps, we were managing really well. You had a lot of people doing different strategies, saving fuel, and just trying to pace ourselves. We were just maintaining that top-three, top-four positioning, which was perfect. And then once we got to Lap 100, we started the cycle to the lead, and it was the wrong point to lead [because of fuel mileage] so then I was trying to get people to go back by me and it wasn't working. No one wanted to pass me for the lead and no one wanted to lead at that point. The Indy 500 is such a race of positioning. Everybody's trying to place themselves in the right spot at the right time. But where it all really kicked off was with 50 to go, it was the last caution. And we had gotten ourselves into eighth position genuinely. We lost that front positioning where we were in the top four. And I remember radioing in to the team and I said "We're sitting eighth on this restart. It's going to be the final restart of the race (that's ultimately what happened) and I said, Are we truly eighth? Or are there other people that are not on our cycle?" And [strategist] Jonathan Diuguid radioed in and said, "No, we're sitting eighth. There's no fuel difference, really, actually people are in better positions than us in front of us on fuel -- so we can't help you here. We got to win this the old-fashioned way," is what he said. And I thought, "OK, well, we have one restart to work with at least, maybe we'll get more." But I tried to focus on that one restart. It was Lap 155 and we were able to go from eighth to fourth and just that one move really positioned us for the final pit stop. Being in the top four, then we were able to decide how can we make it to the final pit stop, how are we going to execute that and then where is that going to put us out. The final pit stop basically put us out in the lead and then we were battling different people to the finish. Being in the top three there after that final pit stop is really critical. If you're not in the top three, it's very difficult to decide your destiny because everyone was pushing at that point. It was flat out, there was no fuel saving, nothing was going on -- everyone was just trying to lead then. So we were right place, right time. And I knew after the final pit stop, we have an opportunity to win the race for sure.

After the race you said that you were, in a weird way or odd way, grateful for the experience of going through the Push-to-Pass deal. What would make you grateful for that?

You have to be. I can tell you, hand on my heart, no one was looking for this to happen. And when you're thrust into a situation of this magnitude, at least the way it was perceived, it's a tough thing to wrestle with. And when you go through a process like that, it definitely shows you things in a different light. You see people in a different light. A lot of it was disappointing to be quite honest. And I think you're exposed to things that maybe you've never seen before. And you've never seen a certain side of people and a certain viewpoint. And I think it gives you a better perspective, and it just makes you aware of maybe things you weren't aware of — and more than anything, it toughens you. You go through something like this, it's either going to break you or make you stronger. And I just wanted to make sure we came out of this stronger as a team. And that's what I felt from Team Penske all month. We were the strongest I've ever seen this group. And we already had a lot of strength in the group. But somehow we found another level there.

Josef Newgarden on having his St. Petersburg win being stripped

Did you think it fueled you? Or did it just make you ignore even more than noise that you already do your best to ignore?

In the beginning, it broke my heart, quite honestly. That's what it did. But time has a funny way of healing everything in my opinion, and I think time also shows the true nature of anything in life. And so you get at least a couple of weeks up the road, and things are better. And getting back to Indy was also sort of the healing medicine. And the 500 itself, specifically, is where I really felt back to loving — loving being at the team and loving doing our job. So I focused on that. I didn't feel like we had to prove anything. I didn't feel fire in that. I just felt a love for what we were able to do. And I really mean that for race day. I just like the opportunity to go racing, I focused on that. And I thought we don't have to win this race. If we do, that's great, but it's just fun to be out here and to drive the best that I can drive — and fortunately, we had a really good race together.

Have you peeked at social media at all since the win just to see what people are saying? Or have you avoided it?

I avoided a lot. I changed my cadence with it last year, it can be such a drain — from a time standpoint, more than anything. Humans in general, all of us naturally get sucked into sort of a time-slip with social media. So I wanted to remove that. I show up to the race track because I love working with the team and driving race cars — and everything else around it is really not the purpose or the reason why I'm there. So, yeah, I've looked at a couple of things, mostly through my wife. But I'm staying away from it mostly.

So now you have two Indy 500 wins. You've gone back to back. So can you do a double and race the NASCAR Cup race in Charlotte like Kyle Larson tried to do?

I want to. So bad. I want to terribly badly — but that's not just a me thing. I think if you ask a lot of the drivers in the field, they would all relish in the opportunity to do the double. Kyle's in a unique position. He's earned that position. It's part of his pedigree and his history in racing. He's known as the guy that jumps in and out of a lot of cars. So I think it was really fitting that he was there. Believe me, everybody was very enthusiastic and happy that Kyle was there. And we all want Kyle to come back. Kyle definitely saw the magic of what Indianapolis is all about. And I think he wants to be a part of it. But for sure, we want to go the other way. I love NASCAR racing, too. I want to go run the double. And I think we need some IndyCar representatives to show the other way around on it. It'd be really fun. It's also unique to hear his perspective — he thinks they're much closer than they used to be in the past, the race cars, because NASCAR has gone to more of a spec chassis and also the aerodynamics on it, the way the cars drive. He thought they were more similar than different. So maybe now's a great opportunity for an IndyCar guy. The NASCAR guys always had an easier time transferring to an IndyCar versus the other way around. But maybe now with the specifications of the cars, the IndyCar guys can have some success going over there. 

Josef Newgarden on trying to pull off The Double

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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