Pato O'Ward

Millions of people around the world saw Pato O’Ward bury his head in disappointment following last week’s near-victory in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. But the driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet said he has spent the past several days alone, trying to find the bright side of what was otherwise a successful day.

“I’m just happy I had the opportunity to race the whole race, and at the end of the day, all you can wish for is to have an opportunity to win that race,” he said Friday at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, the next race on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar. “If my day ever does come (at Indianapolis Motor Speedway), I know it will be special.”

O’Ward, 25, finished second in the “500” for the second time in his still-young career. In 2022, he followed Marcus Ericsson across the finish line. Last year, he crashed in the waning laps trying to take second place from Ericsson as they trailed Josef Newgarden.

Mexican driver O’Ward said he did everything he could to win last weekend’s 108th Running, and that began with overtaking Newgarden on the front straightaway at the white flag. On the backstretch, O’Ward led Newgarden and the rest of the challengers in the snake fashion that has become the race’s recent norm, but Newgarden still was able to scoot around him in Turn 3.

O’Ward said he hasn’t gotten his head around how that happened.

“I was very shocked to see how he towed (up on me),” O’Ward said. “I don’t know how his car did that, to be honest, because for half the (fuel) stretch he wasn’t even able to. So, at that point you do what you can do, what you’ve got to do.

“I couldn’t have waited (to pass him). I did that in 2022, and look how that turned out.”

O’Ward said he feared the caution might come out on the last lap for a situation behind the leaders, so he said it was important to be in front. Also, he noted that at no point in the race did he see two cars pass for the lead on the same lap.

Seeking time to himself, O’Ward spent much of this week in his Indianapolis-area apartment, playing video games and getting his at-home simulator operating after a long wait. He said he “got some good food” and tried to let his mind settle. What comforted him was this fact: That the three Team Penske cars were faster than the field throughout the month. They became only the second teammates in history to qualify 1-2-3.

“Yeah, I’m a bit shocked how (Newgarden) towed up, but then you see what the qualifying performances were and how they dominated the month (and) you really shouldn’t be shocked,” O’Ward said. “They obviously were a lot faster than everyone – at least me – the whole month.

“I could race my way to the front, and then at some point we knew we were at a bit of a deficit. But that’s OK. That was the story of our month, and we had to work with what we had. I worked with what I had.”

O’Ward said there were several moments when his car nearly got away from him in the race, which was part of the reason he took so long to remove his helmet after the race. One of those near-misses was in Turn 2 when he twice had the steering wheel crossed up. Another happened when Newgarden got around him on the last lap.

For an instant, O’Ward thought he could stay on Newgarden’s gearbox, but then his car washed up toward the wall. That left him no choice but to get out of the throttle and accept his second-place fate.

“That’s ultimately was what made it so emotional,” O’Ward said of the effort it took to be competitive. “I couldn’t have done more. I left everything – I gave everything I had.”

O’Ward turned the page Friday, posting the second-quickest lap time in the weekend’s first practice on Detroit’s year-old downtown street circuit. He was just a tick off the field-setting pace of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda).

Palou’s best lap was 1 minute, 1.7210 seconds; O’Ward’s was 1:01.7315.

“We’ve still got some work to do,” O’Ward said. “It’s tricky out there, it really is. There’s a lot of bumps, and it will be very important to get the window right on the car in qualifying just because those bumps can kind of throw you off sequence quite quickly and it will ruin your lap. So, you have to be really precise.”

Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award starts at 12:15 p.m. ET, live on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Sunday’s 100-lap race begins at noon ET on USA Network, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

O’Ward, who is tied for fourth in the standings led by Palou, is ready for what amounts to the start of the second half of the season.

“There are 12 races to go, and I don’t see why we won’t have a shot (at the title),” he said.