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Josef Newgarden collapsed in the motorhome lot following his late crash Sunday at Iowa Speedway and was taken to a Des Moines hospital by helicopter for evaluation.
IndyCar medical director Dr. Geoffrey Billows said Newgarden was transported by helicopter to Mercy One Des Moines Medical Center because the infield care center lacked the equipment to properly evaluate the Team Penske driver, who cut open the back of his head when he collapsed.
Billows said Newgarden was awake and alert, but the hospital was a 45-minute drive from the track and heavy traffic for the post-race Blake Shelton concert would have delayed the journey.
Newgarden dominated and led 148 of the 300 laps while trying to sweep the weekend. But something on his Team Penske car broke with 64 laps remaining and the 31-year-old Tennessee driver spun hard into the outside wall — creating an opening for Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP to win the race.
Newgarden, a two-time IndyCar champion, was visibly rattled after his mandatory check in the infield care center after the crash.
“Definitely was a bit of a shot. I want to cry, so sad for my team. I don’t know what happened,” Newgarden said. “Everything felt fine to me. Totally unexpected and it caught me by my surprise. Team Penske is the best. I never have this stuff, so maybe we were due.
“We can’t afford it for this year. But we’ll fight back. We have a great team here.”
Chevrolet’s initial diagnosis was that the suspension broke on Newgarden’s car. There was no immediate word on the force in which Newgarden hit the outside wall.
Billows said Newgarden cleared all tests in the care center after the crash, and the medical staff spoke to him a second time before he returned to the motorhome lot. IndyCar also had planned to re-evaluate him Thursday in Indianapolis before he collapsed upon returning to the motorhome lot.
“Thinking of my bus brother right now,” tweeted Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin.
O’Ward made the pass for the win on pit road with a speedy stop by his Arrow McLaren SP team and held off Penske teammates Will Power and Scott McLaughlin for the win. It’s the second win of the season for the Mexican driver, who finished second on Saturday and remains firmly in the IndyCar title race with five races remaining.
O’Ward is fifth in the standings, 36 points behind leader Marcus Ericsson. His win halted Team Penske’s dominance on the 0.894-mile oval, where Roger Penske’s drivers had won six of the last seven races prior to Sunday.
Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing finished fourth and was followed by teammate Jimmie Johnson, who raced hard with Indianapolis 500 winner Ericsson to earn his best finish through two seasons of IndyCar racing. Ericsson is also a Ganassi driver and Newgarden’s crash helped the Swede retain the lead in the IndyCar standings — making Johnson’s aggressive racing a bit nerve-racking for the Ganassi camp.
“I race my teammates with the most respect I possibly can, every race I’ve been in, I’ve given way,” Johnson said. “That was really the first time I fought for position and felt like I should have been up there passing (Dixon). Today I had it in me and I raced clean, hard, and just had an awesome day.”
Ericsson said Johnson’s experience on ovals was the difference. The seven-time NASCAR champion made 686 starts in a stock car and won 83 races.
“Yeah, you know, he has a couple of more oval races than me under his belt. I think that’s what I was thinking when he was battling me,” Ericsson said. “All the time I was trying to sort of make him go in my dirty air. Every time I looked in my mirror, he was inside, out, inside, out. Oh, my God. Step behind me, please.”
It was another podium sweep for Chevrolet, who did it on Saturday with Newgarden, O’Ward and Power.
Newgarden was scored as the points leader at the time of his crash and dropped to a tie with Dixon for third in the standings following his crash. There are five drivers separated by 36 points in the standings, and Ericcson leads Power by eight points.
Team owner Bobby Rahal had been noticeably absent from the track for nearly two months and confirmed Sunday that the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner underwent a triple bypass.
Rahal told The Associated Press he went for a routine annual physical on May 5 and doctors discovered he’d unknowingly suffered a heart attack — maybe two — and found 100% blockage in his left anterior descending artery.
Rahal assumed surgery would be immediate but it actually didn’t happen until June 6. He appeared slimmed down ahead of Sunday’s race, only the second IndyCar race the owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan has attended since that May physical.
“Surprised he leaked the news, but nonetheless it’s been an intense couple months for our family,” son Graham Rahal wrote on Twitter. “We’re ultra lucky to still have dad with us, very lucky, but now he’s good for another 100k miles we think! Many had asked where he’s been, now you have your answer.”
IndyCar and NASCAR share next weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. IndyCar races Saturday on the road course; NASCAR races Sunday.