Q&A: Two-time Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden reveals the moment he knew he'd win the 2024 race

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Josef Newgarden went from being an elite IndyCar Series driver to the member of some exceptionally exclusive clubs after winning his second straight Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

Following a four-hour weather delay to begin the race, the Team Penske driver started third, and Newgarden and his No. 2 team had a strong race. But at the end, the 33-year-old put on a racing masterclass in the final laps to take the checkered flag. For a peak Indy 500 finish, he out-dueled Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward in the last few times around Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s iconic 2.5-mile oval, pulling off a stunning last-lap pass for the victory.

Newgarden is now the first back-to-back Indy 500 champion since Hélio Castroneves did it in 2001 and 2002, and he’s also now the 11th two-time winner of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

For The Win spoke with Newgarden about his victory, the famous milk celebration afterward and the moment he knew he had the edge over O’Ward.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Congratulations. How are you? Have you slept?

I have not slept, and it was not from a lack of trying. I tried to get back early [Sunday] night. We celebrated a little bit with the team. We also got done very late [Sunday] with the four-hour delay. Everything after that gets pushed, and it’s a long process to go through with this event.

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden (2) celebrates with his crew members, Sunday, May 26, 2024, after winning the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Alex Martin / Journal & Courier-USA TODAY NETWORK)

How did that four-hour delay affect you, if at all, ahead of the race?

It’s difficult to keep yourself mentally where you need to be. You wake up, and you’re expecting the intensity of race day and for the moment, and then you see this impending storm that’s barreling down on us, and you sort of already know that the race is gonna be put into jeopardy as far as the timeline.

I ended up taking a nap. I didn’t actually feel that great [Sunday] morning, and my son was scheduled for a nap. So I took one with him. I got about an hour and a half in, and then it stopped raining when I woke up and it seemed like we had an opening. … But just, yeah, roller coaster of emotions and energy and just trying to stay in the program for what we’re about to do. It’s a tough race to get right, and ultimately, it’s the only day that matters this month. We’re here for three weeks; this is the only day that matters.

You’re the sixth driver to have back-to-back Indy 500 wins, the first in more than 20 years. You’re the 11th two-time winner. You joined a lot of exclusive clubs. Has two-time Indy 500 winner sunk in yet?

It’s crazy. I let go of the fact, last year, that we were ever gonna win this race just because it’s so difficult to win. And to finally break through last year and then to follow it back up with this year, it’s pretty extraordinary. That’s the only way I can put it. It was unexpected. You never come into this race expecting to win it. It’s so tough to get right.

And just really proud of the team. They executed all day, and it’s a team sport, more so than people realize in racing. And every race we go to is a team effort. But nowhere else that we go to exemplifies the team like Indianapolis, and it really is about everyone doing their job perfectly on the day. And we were able to do that two times in a row, which is pretty cool.

Josef Newgarden, driver of the #2 Shell Powering Progress Team Penske, celebrates in Victory Circle after winning the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

It looked like you very politely sipped from your bottle of milk instead of pouring it everywhere. Was that lessons learned from last year, or did this one just feel different and a different celebration followed?

Well, I wasn’t super polite. I still had a bunch dripping all over me, so it wasn’t very clean. But I think you celebrate however you want to. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to celebrate. But a lot of times people will pour the milk over their heads after they have a drink, and I did that last year. It was fun to do. It just seems like you want to do that for some reason. But having already gone through that and done that, I thought, well, we don’t need to do that again. I’m just gonna enjoy the milk this time and savor it. And so that’s what I tried to do.

May 26, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indycar Series driver Josef Newgarden celebrates after winning the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, you didn’t want to sit for six hours in a milk-covered suit?

Yeah, not this time. It definitely helps with the clean up. It wasn’t all over the car. Yeah, it’s a better process it seems like.

Was there a moment before you took the checkered flag where you thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to win this thing again”?

Yeah, right. Enter in Turn 4. When I passed Pato in Turn 3, I saw that I had the momentum on him, and I think it’s because of the nature of that pass. I passed him basically right at the apex is where I cleared him — the middle of the corner in [Turn] 3 — and I could see that he lost momentum because of it. And I felt really good about the fact that I had enough gap now to get to the line, and it’s gonna happen.

It’s crazy when it does. You almost can’t believe it when you’re headed to the line, and you see that it’s gonna be yours, it’s the team’s. But yeah, that was the moment. Definitely, entering Turn 4, I knew we had it.

This is only the fourth time the Indy 500 has been decided with a last-lap pass, and you’re responsible for the last two. Can you explain the strategy with that and why you’re able to make it work so well in such a high-pressured situation?

It’s definitely not my strategy — I promise you. It’s just the circumstance. The race last year was pretty different, but it was intense with a one-lap shootout. So if you were gonna win it, it needed to be a last-lap pass. There was really no choice. And then [Sunday], there was no game plan. I didn’t know how that was gonna ultimately shape up at the end, but I felt like, whatever happens, I’m gonna react to it, and I’m just gonna try and be ready for the moment.

Pato chose his point to go, and I just tried to basically rebuttal pretty quickly. And it ended up being the right place, right time, right moment. So it worked out for us. I think he’s a great champion too. He’s a great driver. He drove me with a lot of respect, and that’s ultimately what made the move possible. You can’t just drive with everyone like that. Pato is a really hard racer, but he races clean.

Can you expand a little bit on how if it were a different driver or you were raced differently, why you might not have been able to pull that off?

I don’t know that I would have done anything different. The likelihood of it being pulled off, I think, is higher with someone like Pato because he’s a fierce competitor, but he’s very clean. He’s gonna race you fairly, and that was on full display. He raced me incredibly fair, and I didn’t know if it was gonna work out with him. But I think the likelihood is much higher with someone like Pato.

He’s definitely someone I have a lot of respect for, and he deserved to win this race just as much as me. I think he drove a great day. His team did a great job, and it just fell our way. And sometimes that’s the way it rolls. It’s heartbreaking for him. I know it is. I would have been heartbroken on the other end of it, but that’s the Indy 500. That’s why it’s so gratifying when you get it right.

May 26, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indycar Series driver Pato O’Ward (5) passes Josef Newgarden coming to the white flag during the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When you and Pato and Alexander Rossi were trading for the lead and racing hard at the end, the broadcast described it as a “220-mile-an-hour game of chess.” Is that what it felt like?

Yeah, pretty much. We were all sizing each other up, trying to understand. No one was gaming it. We were all just trying to lead and show who’s the superior car at the very end. It was a 30-lap shootout for sure, and you’re just trying to study everybody on the fly. There’s not enough time to study everything and come up with an articulate plan for how it’s all gonna unfold, so you’re just reacting within the learnings that you have throughout those laps.

But it was definitely a chess fight just trying to see where you’re gonna be positioned and when you’re gonna make the move at the right time. There’s no perfect recipe. It’s really hard to understand what the right thing to do is. So that’s why I always say it’s reactionary because, in a lot of ways, it’s not planned. You can’t plan exactly how it’s gonna go, so you’re just trying to understand how it’s flowing and then react accordingly.

In these few hours since you won, what has been the best celebration moment for you?

Oh, it’s the traditions. When you win the race, you get to come back. You can celebrate differently — everyone does — but I like to go back to the Yard of Bricks, right on the start-finish line. I like to celebrate with the crowd, and then it’s everything that comes after that. It’s the milk, it’s the wreath, it’s the kiss from one of the [500 Festival] Princesses.

There’s so many little details that this race has accumulated over the years that have just built tradition, and it’s fun to go through that whole process. There’s nothing like it. There’s no other race that rivals it. So I just cherish all of that. That hour period right after the win is really cool here.

What was it was a different running in the stands this time? Did you know you were going do that or was it like, let’s run it back and do it again?

Well, I always wanted to do that [and did] last year. Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been dreaming of going into the crowd. And I knew where to go, and I was maybe thinking of something different but I couldn’t come up with a good scenario. So I thought, “Well, I’m gonna do that again, but I’m gonna go into a different spot.”

I think I was a little filled with adrenaline, to be honest with you. It was so unexpected to win the race again that I didn’t really have a plan. I just wanted to get into the crowd as quickly as possible. So, yeah, still pretty nuts and cool to do.

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