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IndyCar’s Pato O’Ward and the victory he never got to celebrate

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Pato O’Ward believes a win is a win, so take a victory however it comes, but his latest NTT IndyCar Series victory came six weeks after the race and he was notified while lying in bed at his parent’s house in Monterrey, Mexico.

He received a text message from Arrow McLaren Team Principal Gavin Ward this past Wednesday.

“I had just woken up on my bed in my parents’ house and I just I missed a call from him,” O’Ward said to a question from NBCSports.com. “I texted him back and asked if I could call him in 10 minutes and he's like "You won St. Pete."

“It's like, ‘You're lying.’ And he's like, ‘No. Car 2, Car 3 were disqualified.

“I said, ‘No way.’

“So, yeah, I was shocked.

“To me, it was completely out of the blue. I was focused on the week ahead after we had a pretty tough Long Beach as a team, so it's been full focus ahead and still is.

“But Wednesday was ‘Oh okay we'll take it.’”

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was the apparent winner of the March 10 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but on April 24, IndyCar Series officials disqualified the winner after it was discovered the push to pass system had been used illegally.

Newgarden’s disqualification was the first for an IndyCar Series race winner since Al Unser, Jr. in June 1995 when his winning car at Portland had failed technical inspection.

Statistically, it was O’Ward’s fifth career IndyCar Series victory. But it came without a trophy, or the thrill of driving under the checkered flag as the winner. Or the celebration that comes in victory lane with his crew.

Or the celebration that comes with the team after victory lane has ended and sometimes lasts well into the night.

“I mean, a win's a win, right?” O’Ward said. “We'll take it, but I've said it multiple times, times prior to getting here I'd love to give the team a proper celebration not for St. Pete but for a future race coming up. This weekend would be fantastic.

“I'm glad that we got the recognition for it, and we got awarded I believe what we deserved but it's a big part of the celebration. It’s there and you know it's done and then you just you move forward.”

O’Ward’s former teammate from his Indy NXT days is Colton Herta of Andretti Global. Originally, the two drivers were going to be teammates in IndyCar in 2019, but when a sponsorship commitment didn’t materialize, O’Ward was let go.

Since then, the popular driver from Mexico landed at Arrow McLaren and has become an IndyCar star.

Herta and O’Ward are the face of IndyCar’s future, and they remain good friends. Herta gave his thoughts of O’Ward getting a win without the joy and adrenaline.

“You don't want to win that way either,” Herta told NBCSports.com. “You want to win. You don't you don't want to win that way. You want to win on track you want to be the first and you want to beat everybody. It sucks for him, but it sucks for everybody.

“Like, for me, I would have finished on the podium but like I don't really care now.

“It sucks. It's good points, but I don't care about getting the trophy or getting the prize money or anything I would have wanted to be there with the adrenaline the thrill of that's why you race exactly.”

O’Ward took a shot at Newgarden on X (formerly Twitter) when he asked the winner to deliver the trophy from St. Petersburg to him at this weekend’s race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

“I’m sure Josef didn’t appreciate it that much, but I thought it was funny,” Herta said.

O’Ward was asked if he had heard from Newgarden during Friday morning’s media availability.

“No trophy yet,” he quipped.

O’Ward can sympathize with the rough week that Newgarden has endured, but he also believes his team should have better understood the rules.

“I don't want to say question their integrity, but I mean, that's the question at hand,” O’Ward said. “I've raced Josef fair and square, and they've always raced me very fair. Like, I've always very enjoyed racing against Josef very much, apart from maybe one or two races where he's gotten a little crazier than at times, but he always raced me very well. me very well.

“You can always say, ‘Hey, I can give you this amount of room, and we're probably going to come out the other end unscathed.’

“And it's usually good hard racing. And the same with McLaughlin and with Power.

“I don't know how much more they can fight because there's too much stuff out there that it just proves completely the opposite of what they're claiming to have done (with the push-to-pass).

“So, at this point you just, we're going on as business as usual here and we're going to try and go and win this race.”

On Friday morning, Newgarden spoke publicly for the first time since his disqualification. Later that day, he went on and ran the fastest time in IndyCar practice with a time of 1:06.7045. around the 17-turn, 2.3-mile road course in the No. 2 Chevrolet for Team Penske.

“It’s definitely the best medicine in the world for somebody like me,” Newgarden said. “The positive thing is this car was really fast right away.

“This team has done a good job. I love being here with the 2 car group. I love what they do.”

The second fastest driver was O’Ward at 1:06.7875 in the No. 6 Chevrolet as both drivers were the focal point of attention for one of the most impactful days in recent IndyCar Series history.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500