Red Menace or Rosy Outcome? The 2023 Indy 500

There was no doubt about what the fans in turn 3 felt about the last of three late red flags at the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. They cheered wildly as it was announced over the PA.

Defending race winner Marcus Ericsson was leading—a sitting duck with one green flag lap left after the cars would exit the pits. Ericsson received polite and respectful applause when PA announcer Dave Calabro queried the crowd on who they wanted to see take the checkered flag. By contrast, second place Josef Newgarden—driving for Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar owner Roger Penske—and third place Santino Ferrucci—driving for Indy legend A.J. Foyt—both received wild hoots and hollers.

Add to that the three crashes in one, non-injury carbon fiber shower that this crowd had witnessed in front of them two restarts previous, and they were ready for more action. 185 laps of mostly polite exchanges of the lead had boiled down to a thick, testosterone syrup, with the smell of locked-up tire smoke still lingering in the air. Keep it going.

After colliding with Marcus Ericsson, Pato O’Ward rides the turn 3 Safer barrier as Alexander Rossi slips by beneath.
Behind O’Ward, Simon Pagenaud (in pink) was punted into the wall by Scott McLaughlin. Benjamin Pederesen slips by beneath.
Collected by the Pagenaud/McLaughlin collision, Agustin Canapino then climbed over O’Ward.
Pagenaud and the crowd acknowledge each other as he climbs from his stricken Dallara.

My own feelings were mixed. As a fan celebrating his 50th anniversary attending the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, this last red flag was unprecedented and seemed ludicrous. Nine cars had been taken out in the last fifteen laps. A wheel had rocketed off of Kyle Kirkwood’s car and split the turn 2 suites and grandstands, fortunately smashing a car instead of a family. Let’s consider ourselves fortunate and finish up the same way every 500 that had reached this point in this situation since 1911 had finished—under a couple laps of yellow.

The wild Kyle Kirkwood/Felix Rosenqvist crash:

But as an action photographer, one more chance at capturing a decisive moment is always attractive. My immediate reaction—not necessarily my smartest or most considered moment—was to thrust my arms up in unison with the crowd. What the hell, bring it.

Ericsson was definitely feeling a different emotion, his vision clouded by red mist. He was in a similar position to Lewis Hamilton in the final lap restart of the 2021 F1 finale in Abu Dhabi. He was going to be passed just as Pato O’Ward had been passed while leading the restart two red flags before. His only chance would be to draft back around whoever passed him—Newgarden, Ferrucci or both. Newgarden was the one that got around, and he stayed there for the checkered flag.

Josef Newgarden at the wheel in turn 1

Newgarden passed Ericsson on the back straightaway with an outside move just before turn 3 and snaked down the front straightaway to the fourth-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history—only the third time in Indy 500 history a driver used a last-lap pass to win.

Reactions to what had just happened were as divided as the reactions to Jewel’s “Star Spangled Banner.” (I’m pro-Jewel on that, by the way). “Well that was scripted,” said the first journalist I saw when I got back to the Media Center.

Marcus Ericsson couldn’t hide his disappointment in the post-race presser.

Ericsson was less conspiracy-oriented, but none the less critical. “I think it wasn’t enough laps to go to do what we did,” said a very sullen Marcus. “I don’t think it’s safe to go out of the pits on cold tires for a restart when half the field is sort of still trying to get out on track when we go green. I don’t think it’s a fair way to end the race. I don’t think it’s a right way to end the race. So I can’t agree with that.”

Ericsson could have netted a $420,000 bonus for being the first repeat Indy 500 winner in 21 years.

Ericsson was able to crack a smile while Newgarden was shown kissing the bricks in real time on the press room monitors.

Indy veteran Tony Kanaan, arguably the most popular Indy driver of the last 20+ years and apparently making his last 500 start, was pro-red&restart. “You know, it’s funny, because obviously you have guys like Santino and Marcus that are mad, and you have Josef that’s happy,” said Kanaan, who won the 2013 500 under yellow and checkered flags.

“But we need to think about the show. The biggest complaint we have every year was we shouldn’t finish a race under the yellow. Could have they called it earlier? Yes. Could have, should have, would have, but we ended under green, and that’s what the fans kept asking us every time.

Tony Kanaan coming out of turn 2

“I won under yellow, and everybody hated it at some point. Easy for me to say because I’m not in his shoes (nodding towards Ericsson).” Kanaan finished 16th and was unaffected by the decision.

“I don’t mind what IndyCar did,” said Ferrucci. “I think they did a great job. I agree with you (Kanaan), to the fans, and I said that earlier when someone asked me what I thought of the reds. It’s just I think Marcus has a slightly different opinion which is totally cool because he finished second.”

“I mean, look at this place,” added Kanaan. “Do we really want to finish under yellow with all those people out there? For me, it was the right call.”

Newgarden with the Borg-Warner trophy and Chevrolet racing staff.

Two time IndyCar champion Newgarden earned his spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy in his 12th career 500 start after starting 17th for a Penske team that looked lackluster in qualifying before extending The Captain’s 500 record to 19 wins on raceday.

Newgarden only led five laps, taking the top spot for the first time for one lap during pit stop cycles on Lap 157. He climbed into the lead for the second time, with all pit stops done, on Lap 193 when a crash between the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet of O’Ward, the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of 2019 “500” winner Simon Pagenaud and the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet of rookie Augustin Canapino triggered the second red flag.

Marcus Ericsson coming out of turn 4

Ericsson grabbed the lead from Newgarden on a three-wide restart also involving Ferrucci on Lap 196 that was truncated quickly by the incident involving Carpenter, Pedersen and Rahal, setting up the final showdown.

“I think we did everything right today,” Ericsson said. “I’m proud of the No. 8 crew and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. I think I did everything right behind the wheel. I did an awesome last restart. I think I caught Josef completely off guard and got the gap and kept the lead into Turn 1. I just couldn’t hold it on the back. I was flat. I just couldn’t hold it.”

“I was just trying to stay locked in,” Newgarden said. “I was emotional the last 10 laps because I knew we were in a position to fight for this win at the end. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew it was going to come to some last-lap shootout like it always is these days, which is exciting but stressful for us.”

Newgarden’s on-track celebration was more subdued than his through-the-fence dive.

After his cool-down lap, Newgarden went into the packed front grandstands to celebrate with fans. He soon found himself in a situation similar to Reggie Jackson at the end of the 1977 World Series at Yankee stadium. Fans could be seen grabbing at his HANS device, and for a moment it seemed like he might have to start throwing punches to escape.

Out of the fence and back to his car, Josef’s wife Ashley could be heard asking him if he was OK and he could be seen flexing and examining his left hand on TV.

It was a unique and now signature way to celebrate an Indy win, matching or exceeding Dale Jarrett’s kissing of the bricks and Helio Castroneves’ Spiderman fence climb.

Most importantly, CW episode 1 beefcake Newgarden was able to move a record-breaking $3.666 million from one Penske pocket to another. Ericsson’s second place $1.043 million for Chip Ganassi Racing was also a record, as was the total purse of $17,021,500.

Santino Ferrucci in turn 1

Ferrucci’s third was the best 500 finish for A.J. Foyt Racing since Eliseo Salazar also finished third in 2000.

Pato O’Ward was all smiles before the race, not so much after.

O’Ward led a race-high 39 laps, one of 14 different drivers to lead today.”I’m just sad for the whole team,” said O’Ward, who blamed Ericsson for putting him in the grass and vowed to remember the moment and not be so nice next time. “We had four very fast race cars. Obviously our day ended in a not-so-nice way but it can’t take away from the fact that we were there. We were there in qualifying, we were there in the race, and we continue to push and be contenders every single weekend. I’m proud of everybody. We move on to a new circuit now, and I’m excited for the rest of the season. We’ll have another shot at this one next year.”

Polesitter Alex Palou on the grid

Pole sitter Alex Palou rallied from being pinned against the pit wall by Rinus VeeKay early in the race and falling deep into the 33-car field to finish fourth in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou kept the championship lead, holding a 219-199 gap over Ericsson.

Rinus Veekay

“We were doing well saving fuel and with our strategy until the contact in pit lane,” said VeeKay. “After the drive through penalty we were almost a lap down, but we fought back to eighth until we got squeezed into turn one with people crashing. We came home tenth – a step up from last year.”

Alexander Rossi in the 1974 Gulf McLaren, Johnny Rutherford tribute car.

2016 500 winner Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. “I think Arrow McLaren had three cars to beat. It really sucks to come away with a fifth when our car were that good,” said Rossi. “When the chaos started, after Felix’s (Roseqvist) crash, it was a lap then a crash. A lap then a crash. And then people in my mind were getting away with some pretty crazy jump starts. We’ll look into it. I mean, it’s disappointing.

“I think, obviously, it’s amazing for Team Chevy to have the win. It was an amazing showing for the team all month. I was grateful for the cars that we had. And it just shows how good of cars we had that we’re annoyed and disappointed with fifth. We’ll take the positives and the fact of what we, as a group, were able to accomplish this month and go forward to Detroit, but certainly feels frustrating and like a missed opportunity. We’ll try and learn from it and move on.”

Benjamin Pedersen was the best finisher among the four 500 rookies in the field, 21st in the No. 55 A.J. Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet after being eliminated from the race in the front stretch accident that triggered the last of the event-record three competition-related red flags. Pedersen, the No. 33 Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter and the No. 24 DRR Cusick CareKeepers Chevrolet of Graham Rahal were collected in a chain-reaction collision.

Pedersen earned a $50,000 bonus for being named Rookie of the Year, adding to a total take-home prize of $215,300.

There were 52 lead changes, the third-highest total in Indianapolis 500 history.

Here’s a photo slideshow:

Here’s a link to the entire gallery

Results Sunday of the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge NTT INDYCAR SERIES event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (17) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running
2. (10) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 200, Running
3. (4) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 200, Running
4. (1) Alex Palou, Honda, 200, Running
5. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 200, Running
6. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running
7. (8) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, Running
8. (16) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 200, Running
9. (21) Colton Herta, Honda, 200, Running
10. (2) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 200, Running
11. (18) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Chevrolet, 200, Running
12. (27) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 200, Running
13. (25) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 200, Running
14. (14) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 200, Running
15. (20) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 200, Running
16. (9) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 200, Running
17. (24) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running
18. (32) Jack Harvey, Honda, 199, Running
19. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 198, Running
20. (13) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 197, Contact
21. (11) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 196, Contact
22. (33) Graham Rahal, Chevrolet, 195, Running
23. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 195, Running
24. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 192, Contact
25. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 192, Contact
26. (26) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 192, Contact
27. (3) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 183, Contact
28. (15) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 183, Contact
29. (23) David Malukas, Honda, 160, Contact
30. (19) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 149, Contact
31. (31) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 90, Contact
32. (28) RC Enerson, Chevrolet, 75, Mechanical
33. (29) Katherine Legge, Honda, 41, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 168.193 mph
Time of Race: 2:58:21.9611
Margin of victory: 0.0974 of a second
Cautions: 5 for 27 laps
Lead changes: 52 among 14 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Palou, Alex 1 – 2, VeeKay, Rinus 3, Palou, Alex 4 – 9, VeeKay, Rinus 10 – 14, Palou, Alex 15 – 22, VeeKay, Rinus 23 – 27, Palou, Alex 28 – 29, VeeKay, Rinus 30 – 31, Rosenqvist, Felix 32, Rossi, Alexander 33 – 34, Palou, Alex 35 – 39, VeeKay, Rinus 40 – 47, Palou, Alex 48 – 60, VeeKay, Rinus 61 – 63, Rosenqvist, Felix 64 – 65, O’Ward, Pato 66, Power, Will 67, Herta, Colton 68, Rosenqvist, Felix 69, O’Ward, Pato 70 – 78, Rosenqvist, Felix 79 – 81, O’Ward, Pato 82 – 89, Rosenqvist, Felix 90 – 94, Ilott, Callum 95 – 99, Rosenqvist, Felix 100 – 101, O’Ward, Pato 102, Rosenqvist, Felix 103 – 107, O’Ward, Pato 108 – 109, Rosenqvist, Felix 110 – 113, O’Ward, Pato 114 – 115, Rosenqvist, Felix 116 – 119, O’Ward, Pato 120 – 122, Rosenqvist, Felix 123 – 124, O’Ward, Pato 125 – 128, Rosenqvist, Felix 129 – 131, Ferrucci, Santino 132, Ericsson, Marcus 133 – 134, Castroneves, Helio 135, Rosenqvist, Felix 136, Ericsson, Marcus 137 – 156, Newgarden, Josef 157, Ericsson, Marcus 158, Ferrucci, Santino 159 – 168, Ericsson, Marcus 169 – 170, Rossi, Alexander 171 – 172, Sato, Takuma 173 – 174, O’Ward, Pato 175 – 179, Hunter-Reay, Ryan 180 – 187, O’Ward, Pato 188 – 191, Ericsson, Marcus 192
Newgarden, Josef 193 – 195, Ericsson, Marcus 196 – 199 Newgarden, Josef 200

NTT INDYCAR SERIES Point Standings: Palou 219, Ericsson 199, O’Ward 185, Newgarden 182, Dixon 162, McLaughlin 149, Rossi 145, Grosjean 139, Power 131, Herta 130, Lundgaard 122, Kirkwood 113, Rosenqvist 113, Ilott 111, Ferrucci 96, VeeKay 96, Rahal 94, Malukas 84, Armstrong 77, Daly 73, Castroneves 69, Harvey 65, DeFrancesco 63, Canapino 61, Pagenaud 55, Pedersen 51, Robb 47, Sato 37, Carpenter 27, Hunter-Reay 20, Kanaan 18, Andretti 13, Enerson 5, Legge 5

photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey with help from IMS, IndyCar, Chevrolet and team reports

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