Pat O’Ward upset after falling behind again at Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS — Tears welled up in Pato O’Ward’s eyes, just as raindrops fell earlier in the day at the iconic speedway.

Pick a word to describe a tearful O’Ward after finishing second in the Indianapolis 500: heartbroken, crushed, devastated – all of these words fit. Even for a driver with ninja hands, capable of handling a dangerous car and keeping it from crashing, it took a long time to compose himself.

At first, O’Ward couldn’t even take off his helmet. He said he was so wet inside. When he finally took off his helmet, team members hugged him and his face was buried in the team members’ chests and shoulders.

Just two corners less, he said. Two corners less.

O’Ward thought he had the win. He had his move planned out perfectly, it seemed, waiting to overtake Josef Newgarden until the white flag was waved Sunday in the 108th running of the Indy 500.

“I really felt like I gave it everything I had to get it done,” O’Ward said.

But it was too early. Newgarden still had plenty of time and made a bold pass on the outside of O’Ward in Turn 3 on the final lap. There have only been four final-lap passes in Indy 500 history; Newgarden has now made two of them in consecutive years.

“He could have easily won the race,” Newgarden said. “He drove me great. I’m very grateful for him and his driving style.”

The way O’Ward drove against Newgarden? Clearly. There was a confidence between the two guys to race like that. Both put their cars in risky spots, with bold moves, but knowing the other would race respectfully; it was just that only one could win.

O’Ward’s move to the front was an accomplishment. He led all drivers with 43 on-track passes during the race (teammate Alexander Rossi was second with 40), and his fearless moves on both Rossi and Scott Dixon allowed him to get into position to challenge Newgarden.

His car appeared to be stuck, which meant that taking the necessary steps would require additional risk.

“On both fronts, in the case of Scott and Alex, there was a greater chance of getting the car towed to another location than getting it back in one piece,” O’Ward said.

At the end of the recent Indy 500, two drivers battled for the win. They made runs at each other, changing leads and gambling on when to go in for the final pass. So O’Ward knew he had to finish second, but it required a checkers-or-wreckers mentality to achieve it.

“I put that car in some spots where I didn’t know if I was going to come out the other side in one piece, because I wanted to win this race,” O’Ward said.

O’Ward kept his eyes glued to the monitors in the Indianapolis media center as he spoke. On the screen was a loop of Newgarden’s highlights – the final pass, jumping out of his car and running into the grandstands, the traditional milk drink. It was hard to look away.

O’Ward has had a tough time this month. He recently had a bad case of the flu and had a fever for five consecutive nights. He didn’t sleep well in the days leading up to the race.

But on Sunday he said he felt so good that he “almost finished his job.”

Trial and trial help clear up the tears. All he had to do was finish second in the 500m, and as Scott Dixon said afterwards: “You’d rather finish last in this position and be knocked out early than finish second.”

“It’s when you get too close and you don’t get it right,” O’Ward said. “It’s very emotional.”

Newgarden gets it. After all, the race mocked and harassed him for more than a decade, until he finally succeeded. Now he’s won two races in a row.

This old place is funny that way, and as O’Ward said, it doesn’t owe anything to any of the drivers. But it does seem like a way to reward some of those who have suffered for a long time.

“It hurts when you don’t win,” Newgarden said. “I’ve left here with a broken heart 11 times before. I understand the feeling.”

(Photo of Pato O’Ward: Derron Cummings/Associated Press)


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