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San Antonio’s Pato O’Ward thrilled about second-place finish at NTT IndyCar Series PPG 375 race at Texas Motor Speedway

by Mike Haag | Posted on Sunday, April 2nd, 2023

By Mike Haag

FORT WORTH, Texas – Pato O’Ward’s bid to win a second NTT IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway fell a little short on Sunday.

The 23-year-old Mexican driver and former resident of San Antonio had the dominant car at the NTT IndyCar Series PPG 375 race, but he saw the victory slip away when a late caution was issued that ended the race and gave Josef Newgarden the victory.

Pato O’Ward – PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway – By Joe Skibinski

O’Ward in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren and Newgarden in his No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet were locked in a side-by-side battle and were inches apart when the caution flag was waved after Romain Grosjean’s crash in Turn 2 in his No. 28 DHL Honda. When the yellow light came on Newgarden was ahead by just inches.

“It’s been a hell of a start to the year,” O’Ward said. “The guys gave me an absolute rocket shop. Everybody that was watching the race midway pretty sure saw that.”

Last month at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg O’Ward’s engine sputtered on the final restart and he ended up finishing second. Instead of being upset about back-to-back second-place finishes, O’Ward was happy with his performance.

“It’s been an absolute joy to drive these McLaren No. 5 Chevy,” O’Ward said. “I guess we have had two second places so we are still waiting for that win this year.  But that’s a great start to the championship. Like I said that’s what we need and we’re gonna keep chipping at it just to see that first win of the season and find a way to rack some more up.”

The 28-car field put on an incredible race for the fans at TMS on Sunday. The race featured dramatic, two-wide and often three-deep pack racing that hasn’t been seen at TMS in more than a decade. The last 20 laps featured a pack of drivers racing around the high-banked oval at breathtaking speeds.

Pato O’Ward – PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway – By: Chris Owens

“I had a rocket,” O’Ward said. “Like, I don’t think there’s another way to put it. I was really comfortable in the car. It was fun, I have to say. Like, it’s got to be the best Texas race in the last four, five years. It was freaking awesome. Really, really nice that I got to drive and race with guys that I have so much respect for: Alex, Josef. You can push it to the limit, but you always give each other the room that you need. I think that’s what we gave the fans. That’s what they deserve.”

O’Ward, who started fifth, took the lead for the first time on Lap 109. He ended up leading seven times for 91 laps and had the fastest lap of the race clocked at 221.780 mph on Lap 118. His car was so dominate that through the middle portion of the race he lapped 26 of the 28 other drivers and only Newgarden remained within striking distance. But his run was stopped when his teammate and polesitter Felix Rosenqvist crashed his No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet in Turn 4 on Lap 179.

Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden – PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway – By: Chris Owens

Newgarden led eight times for a race-high 123 laps in route to his second-straight victory at Texas and 26th of his career. He and O’Ward swapped the lead five times during the last eight laps of the race.

“Oh, yeah, I had the timing right,” O’Ward said. “The lap before we crossed the line, my nose was slightly in front of his. There was no way it was going to finish in single file. Yeah, racing gods had other plans.”

O’Ward said that between the aero package that produced more downforce and a different feel to the surface of the track helped create a second racing groove which gave the drivers more room to race and made passing easier.

“The tow was just so strong,” O’Ward said. “With the second lane opening up, you really couldn’t back off or you’re going to get freight-trained by somebody. It’s like keep your foot in it, keep your position, maybe get a position, or lose one. You kind of have to go.”

At times the drivers were racing three-wide around the 1.5-mile speedway at speeds over 217 mph.

Pato O’Ward – PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway – By: Joe Skibinski

“There’s really no other way to do it,” O’Ward said. “Going way too fast to mess around at those speeds. We’re going wheel-to-wheel like 226 miles an hour or something. It’s a little wiggle from somebody can be really big. So hats off to everybody. It’s pretty insane, I have to say. I don’t know how it looks. It must look cool, I’m assuming. It looks insane. But inside of the car, you’re going in, you see two guys there, then you’re just like keep it in. It’s commitment”

O’Ward has now competed in 16 oval races, finishing in the top four in 12 of them, including his 2021 win at TMS and last year’s win at Iowa Speedway. Ironically, O’Ward and Newgarden have been first or second in five of those 16 oval races. Now after two races and two second-place finishes O’Ward leads the point standings going into the next race on April 16 at Long Beach, Calif.

“I knew I could have won,” O’Ward said. “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. Just the timing of the last yellow is what really killed us to be honest. 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.”

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 35 years. In addition to covering motorsports for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 18 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike taught high school English and Journalism for 30 years before retiring in May, 2020.