FORT WORTH, Texas – It looked to be a race that Pato O’Ward could only lose himself.
But then again, maybe there is a higher power.
The driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren IndyCar Team Chevrolet had lapped up to third with just himself and Josef Newgarden on the lead lap.
“I felt like the race was slipping through my fingers,” Newgarden shared about that strategy segment after the race.
But a wave of cautions, pit cycles and various tire strategies hit the reset button, leading to arguably one of the best races of the year according to many drivers in the field. Newgarden was just a fender ahead of O’Ward when Romain Grosjean slid into the outside barrier coming out of Turn 2 with just two laps remaining. The caution flew, stealing away the fight to the finish but still left an entertaining satisfaction.
“I knew I could have won,” O’Ward shared after the event. “It’s just there was really no other way to do it besides timing it. You had to do it the last lap ’cause if not, they were probably going to do it to you.”
Early on, Newgarden had dominated the race. Halfway through the event, a shift in pit strategy and handling adjustments favored O’Ward significantly as he put on a clinic. He closed a seven second deficit on Newgarden, passed him on the outside and took off over the next hour to a similar gap while lapping the rest of the field.
Untimely cautions took away that dominance but did not take away from the race. While others like Alex Palou and David Malukas looked to pounce at the opportunity to sneak in the victory, they were no match for the two that led a combined 213 of the 250 laps. Seven of the final eight laps saw Newgarden and O’Ward side-by-side every lap in every corner, less than a foot apart at over 210 mph.
One final caution coming to the white flag took away a chance for the two to battle it out to the line.
“Just the timing of the last yellow is what really killed us to be honest,” said O’Ward. “All the other ones, you can’t judge when they fall or didn’t fall. If they did, it would probably be a very different story. I’m super happy with the calls my team made. No problems there. I think everybody did a phenomenal job.”
For O’Ward, two second place finishes to start the season results in his inheritance of the championship lead. While wanting more, he is content with his team’s efforts in positioning them for wins. But he couldn’t help but peek at who was in victory lane as he packed up his things.
“The racing gods had other plans.”