INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Marcus Ericsson went from thinking he had won his second consecutive Indianapolis 500 when the caution flag flew with four laps to go Sunday to trying in vain to keep Josef Newgarden behind him during a one-lap sprint to the finish.
Afterward, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver was critical of the way IndyCar decided to end its marquee event
“I think it wasn’t enough laps to go do what we did,” Ericsson said. “I can’t agree with that.”
The controversial ending began after the race already had been red-flagged twice in the final 16 laps. Ericsson jumped ahead on a restart and was credited with the lead when a wreck occurred behind him, causing the yellow flag to fly with four laps to go. But rather than end the race under caution, IndyCar flew another red flag to stop the race with one lap remaining.
During the stoppage, IndyCar reviewed the running order and moved Josef Newgarden from fourth to second. Then, with the cars lined up on pit road, officials said they would take the green and white flags simultaneously the first time they came around.
It was a wild 2.5-mile sprint to the finish.
Ericsson got the jump on Newgarden and maintained his lead through Turns 1 and 2, just as he did in successfully holding off Pato O’Ward in last year’s race. But with a big run, Newgarden was able to get around Ericsson down the backstretch, and he in turn quickly got back in line in the hopes of drafting up behind the leader and making one more pass for the win.
Newgarden went low down the front stretch, breaking Ericsson’s draft, and held on for the win.
“I don’t think it’s safe to go out of the pits on cold tires for a restart when half the field is sort of still trying to get on track as we go green,” Ericsson said afterward. “I don’t think it’s a fair way to end the race. I don’t think it’s a right way to end the race.”
The other side of the argument? More than 300,000 fans packed Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, and IndyCar wanted to do everything possible to give those spectators a dramatic finish under green.
“The biggest complaint we have every year was we shouldn’t finish a race under yellow,” said Tony Kanaan, who won the 2013 race under caution. “Could they have called it earlier? Yes. Could have, should have, would have, but we ended under green, and that’s what the fans kept asking us every time.”
Santino Ferrucci, who finished third for A.J. Foyt Racing, also agreed with the decision to end under green.
“I don’t mind what IndyCar did. I think they did a great job,” he said. “I said that earlier when someone asked me what I thought of the reds. It’s just I think Marcus has a slightly different opinion, which is totally cool because he finished second.”
It was the fourth-closest finish in Indy 500 history, and one that will no doubt be discussed for years to come.
“I’m happy they did it to give a good finish. Obviously if I was in Marcus’s position I would say, ‘Just end it. That’s great,’” Newgarden said. “There’s so many different ways this could have played out, and you could have said, ‘This is fair, that’s fair.”
Asked for his thoughts on the restart, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske — who also owns IndyCar along with Newgarden’s race-winning team — said quite simply: “I don’t have any thoughts. I had nothing to do with it.”
“We have a group that is certainly the officials of the track,” Penske said, “and to me — we’ve said this before — I think all of you had said, ‘We want to see a checkered flag, not a yellow flag.’”
That is exactly what the fans got. Newgarden, too.