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Newgarden repeats in 500 in epic battle with O'Ward

May 26—SPEEDWAY — For the fans, the four-hour wait delivered an epic battle over the final 20 laps as Josef Newgarden passed Pato O'Ward on the final lap Sunday to win the rain-delayed 108th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Newgarden became the first driver to win back-to-back Indianapolis 500 races since Helio Castroneves accomplished the feat in 2001 and 2002.

It was the record 20th Indianapolis 500 win for team owner Roger Penske.

Following the final round of pit stops with less than 30 laps remaining, Newgarden and O'Ward took turns at the point over the final 20 circuits.

The two drivers staged a chess match at over 200 mph to the delight of the nearly 350,000 fans in attendance.

O'Ward took the lead at the start of the 200th lap with a pass of Newgarden in Turn 1. It was a pass made too early on the final lap.

Newgarden used the draft on the back straight to drive around O'Ward in the third turn and capture the victory, with Scott Dixon coming home in third. O'Ward's teammate, Alexander Rossi, contended for the win late and finished fourth followed by Alex Palou.

Chevrolet power took three of the top five positions in the race that was slowed eight times by caution flags.

As he did in 2023, Newgarden celebrated with the fans on the front straight.

"Unbelievable," Newgarden said "I love this crowd."

He said he believed the team could win the race again, and it was just a matter of getting it right.

He said the team earned the win this month, showing it in qualifying and the race.

"It's hard to know if it will work," Newgarden said of the winning pass. "Pato (O'Ward) raced me hard and raced me clean. For us, it worked out. We left it all on the track.

"Pato could have easily won this race. It just fell our way. Tough to not win, it hurts."

Newgarden said Team Penske crushed the weeks leading up to the Indianapolis 500, putting three cars on the front row.

"We brought the fastest cars and got it done," he said. "That's the way I wanted to win it right there."

Newgarden said both his Indy 500 wins are satisfying, although the two races were different.

"Both were hard," he said. "Indianapolis is the highs and lows, and we fought our way back over the past four years."

O'Ward had to contend with the disappointment of a second runner-up finish in the 500.

"I'm very proud of our entire team," O'Ward said. "They gave us the tools to be there."

He said the final laps of the race were stressful and described them as a roller coaster.

"Up and down," O'Ward said. "Ultimately, I had a chance to win and came up a corner short. I want to win this so bad. We came so close, but can't seem to get it right."

In five Indianapolis 500 starts, O'Ward has finished runner-up twice along with a fourth- and sixth-place run.

Noblesville driver Conor Daly was the race's biggest mover, starting 29th and driving to a 10th-place finish with his team putting him in a position to contend for the win by using a different pit strategy.

Christian Rasmussen was the highest finishing rookie, driving to a 12th-place showing for Ed Carpenter Racing.

As expected, the start of the race was delayed for several hours as a rain storm rolled through central Indiana.

The four-hour delay also resulted in Speedway officials lifting the local broadcast blackout to allow fans in central Indiana to watch the race live locally.

The race wasn't a lap old when there was a three-car incident in Turn 1 involving 2022 winner Marcus Ericsson, Tom Blomqvist and Pietro Fittipaldi that started when Blomqvist spun and collected the other two drivers.

The two surprise runs early in the race were delivered by Sting Ray Robb and Daly running up front by using a different pit strategy that kept them up front for much of the race.

NASCAR points leader Kyle Larson lost valuable track position on Lap 132 for a speeding violation on pit road. He led laps late in the race and finished 18th.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.