INDIANAPOLIS — It was good to see fans back this weekend at the World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. It wasn’t a full house that we’re accustomed to seeing now on the 1.25-mile race track, but any fans are better than none.
The NTT IndyCar Series and track officials did a great job to get both races in during these uncertain times. Scott Dixon won Saturday’s race while Josef Newgarden was victorious on Sunday.
The duo are 1-2 in the current points standings with Dixon leading Newgarden by 96 markers with three race weekends left spanning two months, but when looking at things, only the best win at Gateway.
Names like Paul Tracy (1997), Alex Zanardi (1998), Michael Andretti (1999), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Al Unser Jr. (2001), Gil de Ferran (2002), Helio Castroneves (2003), Josef Newgarden (2017), Will Power (2018) and Takuma Sato (2019) all won on the 1.25-mile oval heading into this weekend. That’s why it’s not shocking that Dixon won on Saturday and Newgarden on Sunday.
Here are my thoughts on what was a twinbill in Gateway.
- Pit Stops Were Crucial — With passing being difficult this weekend, that left the name of the game being pit cycles and perfection on pit road. Pato O’Ward leap frogged the Penske’s for the top spot on Saturday. Dixon beat O’Ward narrowly on the final stop of the race to win. Same thing on Sunday. Newgarden, barely got O’Ward on the final stop as they leapfrogged Power on the cycle. Finding the right length to go on a stint and finding clean in and out laps were the difference in gaining or losing spots on track this weekend. Newgarden said on Sunday that his pit crew won him the race. “I didn’t win the race today,” he said after picking up his 16th career victory. “My pit crew won it. I’m not shy to say that. I’ll take it however I can get it.”
- Starting spots still key – With track position and pit sequences mattering, starting spots were key this past weekend too. Dixon won on Saturday from third. Newgarden won on Sunday from second. That’s seven straight Gateway winners coming from a top five starting spot and five of the last seven from the top three. Furthermore, 24 of the last 26 races have been won by a driver from the top 4 Rows at the start.
- Pole winners bad luck – You would think with track and starting position mattering in Indy Car these days, the top starting spot would be the ones in victory lane more times than not. Instead, they’re not. In nine races run, the pole winner has won just once this season. Furthermore, the pole winner has just three top five finishes all year with five of the nine finishing 13th or worse. In fact, if you go back to last year and take the last 19 races, the pole winner has won only three times. The second place starter hasn’t won at all in that span either.
- Pagenaud/Rossi reeling – Heading into the Month of August, it looked like last year’s top two finishers in the Indy 500 would start to stake their claim at Dixon for this year’s championship. Simon Pagenaud had four top four finishes in the first six races of the season. He won at Iowa last month too. Alexander Rossi was starting to heat up in going from 22nd to 10th in the points in six days. He had three straight top 10 finishes heading to Indy. Now, both are essentially out of it. Pagenaud, went from second in the standings, 54 points out, to sixth, 179 points behind leaving the month. He lost 125 points in seven days. That’s because he finished 22nd, 19th and 16th respectively over the last three races. Rossi, is way down in 18th in the standings as he’s finished 27th, 22nd and 14th respectively himself. He led 17 laps at Indy as those are his only laps led since June 24 of last year. It’s shocking how much bad luck these two have had in 2020.
- Pit road costs Power dual podiums – Will Power should have at the very least finished third on Saturday. He pit from second on his second pit stop of the day but an unlucky caution came out after. He was outside the top 10 and couldn’t ever recover. On Sunday, he got the lead back after the second pit cycle and the win was his. He made a mistake and didn’t pit with Newgarden and O’Ward on the final stop and that cost him the win. He had one podium (3rd on Sunday) but pit road kept him from two.
- Newgarden says championship not over yet – Saturday hurt Newgarden. He, like Power, pit early on the second stint. That caution ruined them. Newgarden fell form 84 points out to 117. But, he made up for it via a win on Sunday. With Dixon finishing fifth, Newgarden made up 29 points to chase him down to 96 points arrears. While that’s a lot to make up, the Tennessee native says don’t count him out just yet.
- Good points weekend for Dixon – While Newgarden made up 29 points on Dixon on Sunday, he made up 42 points on the field this month. Dixon, entered August up 54 points on second place in the standings. He leaves +96. He finished second at Indy, first in Gateway 1 and fifth in Gateway 2. With five races left and four of them being strong suits for him with him winning six times including the last time out at Mid-Ohio and having four straight top two finishes including a win on July 4 on the IMS road course, Dixon is going to be tough to catch.
- Newgarden/Dixon only two drivers to have completed literally every lap run this year.
- O’Ward is the real deal – The kid drew praise from his peers this weekend. He handled his two defeats with grace. O’Ward should have won both races if his final pit sequences went his way. Instead, despite leading 121 of 400 laps possible this weekend at Gateway, the Mexican driver finished third and second respectively. Wins are coming soon for him, as he’s now third in points, 119 markers out. That’s probably too much to overcome to win a championship, to be third in the standings right now is a win for him, especially with how they started this year. O’Ward never thought that he’d be in this position right now.
- Sato is having a career year – Takuma Sato didn’t even make a start in the season opener. He wrecked in qualifying and his No. 30 Honda wasn’t put together in enough time. He’d then rattle off top 10 finish after top 10 finish and steadily climb up the points. He went from 24th to 21st to 16th to 15th down to 17th then all the way up to sixth following his Indy 500 triumph, his second in four years. After a runner-up to Dixon on Saturday and a ninth place result on Sunday, Sato is now fourth in the standings with five races to go. While he’s 142 points out, he’s made a hell of a comeback.
- Sunday was a nice Penske rebound – The Team Penske group was reeling on Saturday. They had a great chance but saw it all falter with a first lap crash from Simon Pagenaud and an untimely caution during the middle of the second pit sequence ruin Will Power and Josef Newgarden’s days. Both were 2-4 at the time but finished 12th and 17th respectively. On Sunday, Newgarden and Power started 2-3. They’d take two of the three podium spots for a vastly better day on Sunday compared to Saturday.
- Colton Herta has quietly strong weekend – The second year driver has almost doubled his top five finishes this season in comparison to his rookie year in 2019. If not for getting into the marbles after battling Rinus VeeKay for fourth on Sunday, he would have had a top five finish in both days. Still, Herta finds himself in fifth in the points past the midway mark.
- Rinus VeeKay shines – No one passed as many cars as VeeKay this weekend. Everyone said it was hard to pass at Gateway. He passed 29 cars. The Dutch rookie finished sixth on Saturday and fourth on Sunday for a stellar performance in St. Louis.
- Felix Rosenqvist improving – The second year driver had his best two oval outputs of his young career. He was a career best eighth on Saturday only to beat that by one spot (7th) on Sunday.
- Conor Daly ends Carlin season with 4 top 10’s in 5 starts – Carlin hasn’t had the most success in their brief Indy Car career but Conor Daly is giving them their best run. Sunday wrapped up his five race stint with them and Daly put his No. 59 Chevrolet inside of the top 10 in four of those starts. That’s impressive in that he doesn’t have a teammate in any of those races.
- Changing of the guard? – The elder statesmen of the sport are still winning. Through nine races, six of them have been won by drivers 35 or older. In fact, five of the nine were won by drivers in their 40’s including a 1-2 finish for Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato on Saturday and in reverse order last Sunday for the Indy 500.But, I sense a changing of the guard is coming soon. Four of the top six finishers on Saturday were 29 or younger including three of them 21 or younger. Six of the top 10 drivers on Saturday were 28 or younger too. On Sunday, 29 year old Josef Newgarden won. Three of the top four finishers were 29, 21 and 19 years old. Four of the top six were 29 or younger with three 21 or younger .With Felix Rosenqvist and Josef Newgarden both winning this year already too and both being 28 and 29 respectively, the future is bright. You have 21 year old Pato O’Ward leading laps over the two days and finishing third and second respectively. 20 year old Colton Herta finished fourth and sixth respectively in Gateway. 19 year old Rinus VeeKay was sixth and fourth respectively himself. With Rosenqvist and Newgarden still running on top of their games and 28 year old Alexander Rossi still very much at the start of his prime, you get a bright future for the series which was on stage in Gateway.
- Andretti Autosport struggling – Colton Herta was their top dog, but the other four drivers in this stable were nonexistent this weekend. Zach Veach finished 21st and 22nd respectively. Marco Andretti was 23rd and 15th himself. His best finish is 10th in five Gateway tries. Alexander Rossi limped home 22nd and 14th as he’s had one top five and just two top 10 finishes in five Gateway starts. Ryan Hunter-Reay was seventh and 11th respectively and still has no top five finishes ever there. Three of his five finishes are 11th or worse. They’re struggling on the season too.
- Gateway 2 was the shortest race from green flag to checkered of the season (1-hour, 32-minutes, 15-seconds) and the second fastest average speed (162.594 mph) trailing only the season opener at Texas. It was also the only race of the year that all 23 drivers finished at the end. That feat never happened last year either.
- Gateway 1 produced the closest finish all year with a margin of victory being .1404-seconds.
- 3 of the 6 oval races this season have finished under caution. While some may think IndyCar needs to figure out a way to red flag the end of races or go to an overtime, I’m just fine with the races ending at the scheduled distance. The right winners won all three of those races and there’s no sense to risk carnage by making an artificial finish or extending the distance. It’s more pure this way.
- 5 of the last 6 races have been run with two or fewer cautions.
- This was the third straight race that the driver to have led the most laps didn’t win. Scott Dixon led 111 of 200 laps at Indy and finished second. Pato O’Ward led 94 of 200 laps in Gateway 1 but finished third. Takuma Sato led 66 of 200 laps on Sunday but came home ninth.
- Big 3 Still Dominating – RLL put two cars on the podium at Indy. They inched closed to making this a “Big 4.” But, Ganassi and Penske won both races this weekend and have now won eight of the nine races run in 2020. Since 2018, they’ve won 35 of the last 43 races run and since 2016, they’re won 61 of 76.