The fastest 33-car field in race history continued to prove that things can change at any second. Josef Newgarden, the 2017 and 2019 IndyCar Series Champion, now has his first-ever Indianapolis 500 win.
The 107th edition of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" boasted a plenty of formidable starters. Alex Palou came in as the fastest pole position qualifier (234.217 mph). Four-time victor Helio Castroneves started in the seventh row, seeking a record fifth race victory. Defending champ Marcus Ericsson started from the fourth row.
But it was Newgarden to take the win from 17th, passing Ericsson in the final lap after the race's third pivotal restart. Newgarden used the same "Dragon" move Ericsson used to win last year's Indy 500, weaving up and down the track in the final lap to negate a possible draft from the trailing car.
The 32-year-old Tennessean hopped out of his car and into the crowd after his victory, something that is better seen than described:
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 28, 2023
Ericsson settled for second while America's Santino Ferrucci, Palou and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five.
Ericsson calls third restart 'unfair and dangerous'
The third red flag of the race came with two laps to go. The leaders were barely starting after the previous crash when Benjamin Pedersen and Ed Carpenter went speeding into the front straight's inside wall, with Marco Andretti, Christian Lundgaard, and Graham Rahal involved as well.
The final restart went to a green flag almost immediately, which was a controversial decision by race officials.
"I just feel like it was an unfair and dangerous end to the race. I don't feel like it was enough laps to do what we did. We've never done a restart out of the pits," Ericsson told NBC Sports after coming in second place. "I think we did everything right."
Pato O'Ward's late move leads to second red flag
With 40 laps remaining, Ferrucci passed Ericsson to take the lead. But With 25 laps remaining, frantic movement put Pato O'Ward up front. O'Ward was in third place with eight laps remaining,
O'Ward had just been passed by Josef Newgarden for the lead. He was right under Ericsson as he entered Turn 2, and suddenly went into a spin. The race was red flagged with seven laps remaining. Agustín Canapino and Simon Pagenaud were also part of the collision.
"I was way too nice, I got onto the apron to give [Ericsson] room and I got squeezed," he said after he was released from the infield medical care center. "I'll remember that one."
Kirkwood, Rosenqvist collide in final laps
Kyle Kirkwood and Felix Rosenqvist collided for a scary crash with 15 laps remaining. Rosenqvist's car spun out of control, leaving Kirkwood with nowhere to go. He flipped upside down and dragged, as one of his tires flew out of the track.
Kirkwood, who was conscious and claimed to only have knee pain, was quickly attended to by safety workers. The race was red-flagged, and Kirkwood eventually gave the crowd a thumbs up after it resumed. He was placed in an ambulance and taken to the infield care center for evaluation. After he was released, he spoke with the NBC's broadcasters. "Glad I'm OK but disappointed in that finish, no doubt," he said.
Harrowing moment at the Indy 500 as a tire is flung from Felix Rosenqvist's car, narrowly missing fans, and Kyle Kirkwood is flipped in the collision. pic.twitter.com/38NLWvUFqX
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) May 28, 2023
There were no reported injuries from the crowd, as the tire apparently hit a car in the parking lot. There was more concern from officials about the safety of audience members than Kirkwood, a testament to the advancement of the technology in these race cars.
— Andrew Kossack (@AndrewKossack) May 28, 2023
Frustration for Sting Ray Robb after early crash
In addition to all of the reds, a crash on the 91st lap led to a yellow flag that had some significant implications. Rookie Sting Ray Robb crashed in Turn 1, after Graham Rahal made a late pass on him. Robb slid up the track after hitting the outside wall hard. Palou and Rinus VeeKay quickly made contact.
Rahal was substituting for injured driver Stefan Wilson, and Robb showed his frustration with him after the collision derailed his first Indy 500 attempt from the last row.
"Just got caught up racing someone I thought didn't stand up to the stereotype, but I guess it's there," Robb said. "Wasn't really for position and a late move, just got hung out there in the gray. When you're not leading the race, can't do that."
He later apologized via Twitter for the comments.
Watched the replay, bad day. Frustration doesn’t lead to great interviews. Didn’t handle it as good as I could have. Chaotic 500 so far and sad we don’t get to continue.
— Sting Ray Robb (@sting_ray_robb) May 28, 2023
Even without Robb's interview, it's clear that Sunday's results didn't sit well with a few of the competitors. Between frustration with restarts or other drivers, this iteration of the Indy 500 will likely be a point of contention for a while.