Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden's trip to grandstands: '... it was getting a little crazy'

INDIANAPOLIS – Josef Newgarden was planning to slip under the first fence, hop over another, scale a set of stairs onto a landing of folding chairs and then bound up more than three dozen rows of bleacher seats, all the way to Row VV in Paddock Section 11 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That’s how the Team Penske driver had dreamt for more than a decade he’d celebrate his first Indianapolis 500 victory — starting with shimmying between the opening of a bolted-shut photo hole gate within a chain link fence, and ending with partying amongst a sea of crazed race fans just past the start-finish line.

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And for a driver whose day couldn’t have been more ‘Penske Perfect’, Newgarden’s top-secret plans a dozen years in the making were foiled rather quickly. Sunday’s winner said he’d drawn up this post-race celebration in his head ever since he made his 500 debut in 2012, but he never quite thought of just how quickly he’d be enveloped by the jubilant throng.

“Helio’s got the ‘Spiderman’, climbing the fence, which is so cool, but I didn’t want to climb the fence. I wanted to go through it. And the funniest part is I wanted to go to the top of the stands, and I quickly realized once I got to that lower level, I wasn’t going to make it up there and probably should turn back, cause it was getting a little crazy.

“I was starting to worry about if I was going to get back at all. But it’s going to be the coolest moment I’ve ever experienced in racing.”

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Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden (2) celebrates with fans Sunday, May 28, 2023, after winning the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As Newgarden told IndyStar Monday morning after his first victory in 12 tries at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, his longtime work with a digital team to manage his social media and shoot photo and video of him during a race weekend helped educate him on holes and access points in the outer fencing of the track that might simply blend into the background for an average spectator. And at that particular spot, he knew he could either remove the bolts attached to the fence door by a metal chain from their resting spots that keep it secured shut and push it open, or simply slip in between a gap between the fence when its closed and the outer fence.

“Oh yeah, I’ve (practiced it) late at night,” Newgarden said with a laugh and not nearly enough bite in his voice to tell if he was kidding. “I knew exactly where that was, and that’s why you saw me get there so quickly.”

After his victory lap that followed his single-lap shootout with Marcus Ericsson, the defending winner who led the field to green with one lap to go after the end of a third and final red flag Sunday, Newgarden followed in Castroneves’ footsteps from 2021. He parked his car on the Yard of Bricks, rather than the traditional move of pulling into pitlane following the parade lap and immediately riding the car lift up atop Victory Podium. Newgarden detached himself from his belts, cords and cables inside the cockpit, hopped out of the cockpit and immediately sprinted to that opening in the fence — helmet still on.

And Newgarden had no one in particular he was hoping to see.

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Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden (2) celebrates with fans Sunday, May 28, 2023, after winning the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“You’re in such a rare position here to run the race and maybe win it, and I have so much respect for what this crowd is,” Newgarden said. “For me, I just thought that would be a unique way to share the win, and it was exactly what you could hope it would be.”

Well, almost. Within 10 seconds, Newgarden had slipped through the fence, hopped the next, scaled the stairs and made his way onto the first platform… and hit a point of no return within the chaos. Should he win again, he said he’s not yet sure if he’ll turn the yet-to-be-named celebratory move into a staple of his. It’s all about doing what feels right in the moment.

“I didn’t know anyone there, but there was some woman that was embracing me and not letting go, and I’m like, ‘Well, this is great! But I’ve got to get back!’ It was really funny,” he said. “I would’ve like to do more or stayed longer, but it looked like that wasn’t going to be a wise move. I was legit worried about (getting crushed). I was thinking, ‘I could probably get suffocated out here if people go nuts.’”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Josef Newgarden wins Indy 500: Celebration, trip to IMS grandstands