INDIANAPOLIS — The NTT IndyCar Series championship race isn’t over just yet. The standings may suggest other wise, but Josef Newgarden warns that you can’t count him out just yet. Yes, Newgarden trails Dixon by 96 points with five races to go in the 2020 season. Yes, four of the five races left across two tracks have seen Dixon win the last time out on them. But, Newgarden also knows that it’s not out of the realm of possibilities to close that gap between now and St. Pete.
Newgarden, has won 13 times since joining Team Penske in 2017. He’s had the capability of going on hot streaks. Heck, go back to 2017, his first year with the organization and see that the Tennessee native had five top two finishes in the final six races that year. Last year, he had three top two finishes to start the first four races. He had 10 top four finishes in the first 12 races run.
Newgarden made up 29 points on Dixon in his Gateway win alone and Dixon’s fifth place finish. More days like that will chop that deficit by time we get to St. Pete in October.
Plus, the defending series champion also notes that if luck had gone differently this year, that gap wouldn’t necessarily be where it’s at right now either.
“In all honesty, I think we could have had four or five wins by this point,” said Newgarden after scoring his second win of the season two Sunday’s ago. “We’re not there. We’re a little bit behind. But we’re trying to chase and catch back up and do what we can. We have to keep fighting and try to claw back. That’s all we can do.”
He notes that there are a few key races to why he’s where he is in his deficit. A bad caution in the middle of a pit sequence at Indy. Same thing happening in Iowa 1 and Gateway 1. A mechanical malfunction on his No. 1 Chevrolet at Road America. All races he felt he had a car capable of winning.
Dixon won at Indy, won at Road America, won at Gateway and was second in Iowa 1. That’s why Newgarden thinks he can hang with Dixon head-to-head, it’s just those four races flipped the script and why he went from being 49 points down to 96.
“If those things stop happening, I think we can fight him with,” said Newgarden. “What do we have, five races to go now? It’s tough. We have to have some help. But it’s possible. Anything is possible with that amount of races left.
“I mean, look, it’s hard to complain about bad luck because at the end of the day it is what it is. You’re going to have things that go against you, you’re going to have things go your way. A lot of time you can’t control it.
“I just felt like this year, we have had really good cars. We’ve had good cars to compete, running up front, led a lot of laps. We’ve just had too many races that have completely gone against us. It’s unfortunate because the races that go against us, or Will Power, they seem to go Scott’s way. He seems to be the benefactor of our misfortune more often than not.
“I don’t want to harp on it because it’s racing. I’ve had years where we’ve had everything go our way, and Scott has been on the opposite end of that. It kind of ebbs and flows. You can’t complain too much because it goes back and forth.
“This year we’ve been doing a great job. Gavin is doing great. Had three poles. Close to another one yesterday. Not like we’re doing a bad job. We have had good cars. We’ve bitten one too many times with bad luck. Just been hoping it’s going to stop at some point and unfortunately it hasn’t completely stopped yet.
“I mean, it’s critical. Yesterday hurt. The 500 hurt even more. It’s a shame, we’ve just been bitten one too many times this year. Normally I feel like the cycle kind of comes around, it starts to ease up on you and starts to hurt someone else. This year it’s just not seemed to ease up on us a whole lot. We’ve had a lot of yellow situations which have gone against us.
“I think yesterday was the third yellow that really hurt our race, just has taken us out of contention. We’ve had a couple other issues here or there that some of them were self-induced, some were out of our control. We’ve just not had a very smooth year.”
So, even if those things clean up, it’s going to take perfection for Newgarden. Dixon, doesn’t slip up much. He has a top five finish in all but one start this year. 14 of his last 17 starts have been a top five finish with 10 of those 14 being in the top two.
We know Dixon can just stalk Newgarden from here on out. The pressure is on the defending series champion. Dixon isn’t called the “Ice Man” for nothing. He doesn’t normally flinch. He doesn’t typically put a bad wheel. He doesn’t normally have problems on pit road. He doesn’t push too much out of his car to merit any mechanical failures.
That’s why Newgarden has to do the opposite and push as hard as humanly possible. It’s tough to make up almost two full races on a driver like that and only have have races left to do so.
“It’s getting hard now,” Newgarden said on if he can still catch Dixon. “Yesterday was just tough. It’s just tough.We can’t quite claw forward. We just can’t have situations like yesterday where the yellow bites us. We can’t afford that. We cannot afford that with the amount of points we are down.
“If that type of situation keeps happening to us, then unfortunately you’re never going to claw back where we’re at right now. It’s just not going to happen. But I believe we can.”
This is going to be a fight for the ages still. Newgarden has won two of the last three championships. Dixon has won the other. They’ve combined to win five of the last six titles and here we are again with them 1-2 in the closing stretch.