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IndyCar Indy 500

Why Indy 500 'fix' finish accusations are wide of the mark

OPINION: Josef Newgarden's victory for Team Penske in Sunday's Indianapolis 500 prompted many a keyboard warrior to declare that the race outcome was convenient given the circuit owner is also his team boss. But this conspiracy theory is just that...

In a land that’s spawned perhaps more than its fair share of conspiracy theories – take your pick from JFK, the moon landings, 9/11 – Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 produced a new one: It was fixed to allow track and series owner Roger Penske’s driver Josef Newgarden to win.

To countenance that belief, you’d have to completely discredit why Penske is in this sport and what the multi-billionaire gets out of it. He first came to the Indy 500 as a fan with his father in 1951, and saw Lee Wallard lead 159 of the 200 laps to win by almost two minutes. And he came to the 107th edition, 72 years later, to see a good and fair race as he did then (although the winning margin was a tad closer).

Sure, Penske wears a lot of hats – $3.1 billion can buy you a lot of them – and he freely admits: “I took my track owner hat off and became a car owner there [for] the last lap.”

But he stood down from his passion for calling strategy on the pitbox to avoid a conflict of interest, separating himself from any competitive contact with his team or officials. TV showed where he was in those closing laps, stood atop his Pagoda building with the best view in the house, along with his son Greg and right-hand man Bud Denker.

To suggest he instructed race control to allow his car to win… that’s just nuts. He carries a huge amount of heft in IndyCar circles, more than anyone else, but I simply don’t believe that would ever happen. And why would he want it to?

I know he’s set a target of 20 BorgWarner trophies for his team, but not at all costs. He gets a buzz out of beating his old friend Chip Ganassi, but by fair means and not foul.

“I had nothing to do with it, obviously,” he affirmed of the final red flag/restart decision. “We have a group that is certainly the officials of the track, and to me, we've said this before, we want to see a chequered flag, not a yellow flag [to end the race].”

Read Also:
Penske got back to victory lane at the 500 for the first time since 2019 with Simon Pagenaud

Penske got back to victory lane at the 500 for the first time since 2019 with Simon Pagenaud

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

It’s a mantra that IndyCar has stuck to for a while now, following in NASCAR’s footsteps without going as far as the ‘overtime’ you get in stock car racing. And Penske wants it, because he wants to see a good race with an exciting finish, and what we got is exactly as IndyCar prescribed:

• IndyCar does everything it can to finish under green flag conditions but only to the prescribed race distance.
• IndyCar’s rules provide options to achieve this goal which is repeatedly communicated to competitors prior to every event.
• Each red flag was issued to provide the opportunity for a green flag finish, and to give the AMR IndyCar safety team time to properly return the track to racing conditions.

The only thing that bugged me about that last red flag was the time that it took to throw it. After the previous wreck involving Pato O’Ward, Simon Pagenaud and Agustin Canapino, it took less than a minute for race control to hit the red button. But for the final shunt, as cars came to the green with four laps to go, for some reason it took twice as long.

Imagine if the roles had been reversed? They so nearly were, as Ericsson only took the lead from Newgarden at the final yellow, so you could argue if he hadn’t done that by a tiny margin then it would’ve been a complete switch of how the last lap played out

That meant there was only time for the cars to complete one flying lap to complete the race, coming straight from the pitlane to do so – deleting the usual requirement for a proper warm-up lap. That’s the only similarity that I see here to the infamous 2021 Abu Dhabi GP Formula 1 decider, where race director Michael Masi played fast and loose with the lapped cars rule to get a final lap in.

I did have visions of the cars piling into Turn 1 at 220mph on worn and cold tyres that lacked requisite pressure, pounding into the wall one by one, but fortunately it was all good and we got a clean and exciting last lap. Afterwards, the defeated Marcus Ericsson complained that it was “unfair and dangerous”. The latter was disproved (thank goodness) and as for the former, well, he’s got quite the vested interest there…

Imagine if the roles had been reversed? They so nearly were, as Ericsson only took the lead from Newgarden at the final yellow, so you could argue if he hadn’t done that by a tiny margin – again, judged by race control on the evidence of timing loops – then it would’ve been a complete switch of how the last lap played out… Would it have been a fix then?

Analysis: How Newgarden rose to be a thorn to Ericsson’s double Indy 500 bid

As with most conspiracy theories, they'd depend on a highly sophisticated web of Machiavellian forces at play to make them work. Although I’ve not been in IndyCar race control myself, I’ve seen at first-hand how it works in the Daytona 24 Hours – it’s a couple of experienced guys making the calls on the fly as they see them, based on information they’re receiving from all around the venue.

Human beings, not machines, doing their best to perform duties under the pressure of running a race watched by over 300,000 in-person at Indianapolis and millions on TV around the world.

It's as simple as that.

Newgarden earned his first 500 victory in dramatic circumstances after a one-lap shootout

Newgarden earned his first 500 victory in dramatic circumstances after a one-lap shootout

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

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