At the Indy 500, Pato O’Ward is sad after failing again

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Pato O’Ward’s tears flowed freely, in contrast to the rain falling on this venerable speedway earlier in the day.

Choose a term to describe O’Ward’s crying after his second-place finish in the Indianapolis 500: heartbroken, devastated, devastated — they all fit. Even for a driver with the hands of a ninja, able to pick up an evil car and save it from a collision, it took some time for him to gather his courage.

At first, O’Ward couldn’t even take off his helmet. He said the inside was very humid. When he finally did, there was a long hug, his face buried in the chests and shoulders of the team members.

He said: Only two angles. Two short angles.

Oward thought he had it. He calculated his move perfectly, it seemed, waiting for a pass on Josef Newgarden until the white flag waved Sunday in the 108th Indy 500.

“I really thought I did everything I could to get it done,” Oward said.

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

“He could have easily won the race himself,” Newgarden said. “He led me excellently. I am very grateful to him and the way he led.”

The way O’Ward drove against Newgarden? Clean. There was trust between the two men to race in this way. They both put their cars in risky situations, making bold moves, but all while knowing that the other will race respectfully; It’s just that only one person can win.

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O’Ward getting so far forward was a feat. He led all drivers with 43 on-track passes throughout the race (teammate Alexander Rossi was second with 40), and his aggressive moves over both Rossi and Scott Dixon allowed him to gain position to challenge Newgarden.

His car felt stuck, meaning extra risks were needed when making the necessary moves.

“On both fronts, on Scott and Alex, (there was) more potential to turn the car around than to come back in one piece,” Oward said.

At the end of the last Indy 500, it was a battle between two drivers for the win. They run at each other, exchanging the lead and betting on when to go for the final pass. So Oward knew he had to get to second place, but it took a checkers-or-bums mentality to make it happen.

“I put that car in certain spots where I didn’t know if I was going to come out the other end intact or not, because I just want to win this race so bad,” Oward said.

As O’Ward spoke, he stared at the screens in the media center in Indianapolis. On the screens was an episode of Newgarden’s highlights – the final pass, jumping from his car and running into the stands, drinking the traditional milkshake. It was hard to look away.

Damn, most of this month had been hard for Oward. He recently came down with a severe case of the flu and had a fever for five nights in a row. He didn’t sleep well in the days leading up to the race.

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But he said Sunday he felt good enough to “almost get the job done.”

Effort and experiences help explain the tears. All he had to show for it was another second place in the 500m, and as Scott Dixon said afterwards: “You’d rather finish last and get out of the race early” than finish second.

“This is when you get too close and you can’t seem to do it right,” Oward said. “It’s a lot of emotion.”

Newgarden understood. After all, this race had bothered and manipulated him for over a decade until he finally succeeded. And now he has won twice in a row.

This old place is funny like that, and, as Ward said, it doesn’t owe anything to any driver. But it seems to have a way of finally rewarding some of those who have suffered long enough.

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

(Pattu Award Photo: Daron Cummings/AP)

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