By Tyler Fenwick | @Ty_Fenwick
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – If Josef Newgarden could have had it his way, he would have gone into a dead sprint competition with Alexander Rossi and Carlos Munoz in the final laps for a chance to win the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The Newgarden team’s fuel strategy was in line with nearly all of the challengers, but it was not enough to produce his first victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A pit stop for fuel on Lap 195, combined with Rossi’s gamble to avoid a final stop, prevented that sprint from taking place.
“Man, I was feeling it at the end,” said Newgarden. “If we get a race going, we’re going to be good; we’re going to be able to beat these guys. The way the fuel played out, we didn’t have an opportunity to do that.”
It was instead Rossi, the rookie, who became one of the most unexpected winners in the history of the race. He did it by taking an enormous risk by not refueling in the final 36 laps, pushing his car farther than any other driver.
Newgarden’s previous best result in four races here was a ninth-place finish last year. He explained his thinking during the final laps: “My sole focus was, ‘Let’s get to the last three, five laps and be up front, then I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do at the end to win the thing.’
“That kind of sounds silly,” Newgarden said. “Well, didn’t you have a plan? Weren’t you thinking of a plan the whole race? I was. I was sticking to my priority of let’s get this car up front…
“I just didn’t think I had to have a definite plan for those last laps.”
Asked about how Rossi pulled it off, Newgarden didn’t volunteer any answers.
“I mean, man, it’s hard not to say the wrong thing,” he said. “I think if I was in Alex’s position, I’d be the happiest man in the world right now. I wouldn’t care how we won the damn race. We won the damn race. So that’s one part of it.
“… [T]o put it politely, I don’t think they were quite as strong as us today.”
Newgarden ran a superb race by most standards, capturing the lead four times for a total of 14 laps. Three of those leads came during the final 21 laps.
Newgarden overtook Tony Kanaan on Laps 180 and 183, both times at Turn 1, and led by as much as 1.3118 seconds during that span. He grabbed his final lead of the race on Lap 192 when Kanaan pulled off for new tires and fuel.
Munoz passed Newgarden at Turn 1 of Lap 194, and Newgarden stopped for fuel on Lap 195, ultimately derailing his winning chances.
“I don’t think I have a pity card to play,” said Newgarden. “… This is really the first time I’ve ever felt like I could have won that race, and it just didn’t happen. It’s really the first time I’ve ever felt that way.”
While he finished 4.9 seconds behind a coasting Rossi, Newgarden had an opportunity to beat Munoz for a second-place finish.
“When I came out of the pits, Carlos was way out on me. He gained a lot of time. I was thinking the same thing: It’s not over, I’m going to keep sucking up on him with the draft. There were a couple lap cars that were kind of helping me. I was go, go, go, ‘til the very last stint with the checkered flag.”
Newgarden couldn’t complete the comeback, falling to Munoz by .4329 seconds.
“At least people had an amazing show to watch for the 100th running,” Newgarden said. “That’s all we can really ask.”