O’Ward Named Indianapolis 500 Rookie Of The Year

Pato O’Ward was named the Rookie of the Year for the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Monday. The honor could be foretelling of future success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Nearly one in five Indy 500 Rookie of the Year winners since the award’s inception in 1952 have gone on to win the “500” in their career, with four Rookies of the Year winning the race multiple times.

Since 2000, four drivers – Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi – have won the “500” and the Rookie of the Year award. Montoya, Castroneves and Rossi were rookie winners of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Rick Mears and Jacques Villeneuve won the “500” in their second opportunity. Parnelli Jones and Jim Clark won the race in their third attempt, Mark Donohue in his fourth and Mario Andretti in his fifth. Race winners Arie Luyendyk and Eddie Cheever also are former Rookie of the Year honorees.

O’Ward is just the third Mexican driver to earn the honor and its $50,000 prize, joining Josele Garza (1981) and Bernard Jourdain (co-winner in 1989). O’Ward was the top-finishing rookie after driving from the outside of Row 5 to finish sixth. The driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet didn’t lead a lap, but he stood in second place after the next-to-last pit stop.

O’Ward called his run “solid.”

“We were running in the top five most of the race,” he said. “We were fighting up there, mixing it up with (Scott) Dixon, Rossi, Takuma (Sato, the race winner).

“But man, you know, towards the end I just didn’t have quite enough to try and get those Hondas in front of us. I think we juiced out the car. We got everything out of it.”

Honda powered the top-four finishers. Josef Newgarden, the reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion, was the highest-finishing Chevrolet driver in fifth place.

While O’Ward was pleased to have finished sixth and been the top-finishing rookie among the five in the race, he also sounded like a driver with eyes on the big prize.

“I think it was a good job for my first-ever Indy 500, (but) the only thing that matters here is winning,” he said.

O’Ward didn’t win the “500,” but he kept alive his bid for an NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship. He sits third in the standings, 117 points behind Dixon, the five-time series champion, heading to this weekend’s oval doubleheader at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Newgarden is second, 84 points behind Dixon.

O’Ward has reason to be optimistic for the WWTR weekend. He finished fourth in Race 1 of the doubleheader at Iowa Speedway last month, a similar short-oval track. O’Ward scored his career-best finish – second – on the Road America road course.

“I think we’ve had a fantastic year so far, but we have to keep it going,” O’Ward said. “We have to keep adding up points. Like I said, I mean, we have to start adding up more points than Dixon sometime if we want to catch him.” Curt Cavin, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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