INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden said that he needed to be perfect from here on out in order to win the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series championship. He was hot and had the momentum, but was a lot of points out still. In order to not only catch Scott Dixon, but pass him too, was going to be no easy feat.
So far, he’s been as close to perfect as one can and has gotten some help along the way.
Dixon and Newgarden were caught out from a Takuma Sato off in qualifying for their group for Race 1 on Thursday evening. Newgarden, started second. Dixon 12th. Newgarden, led the most laps on Friday too and won by 14.2940-seconds. Dixon, finished ninth.
The points gap went from 72 to 40 in one race.
On Saturday, Dixon qualified 15th. Newgarden though only started ninth. By the end of the opening stint, Newgarden was up to sixth. By the end of the race, he came home fourth. Dixon was eighth. That’s another 10 point swing.
“We were a little shy of where we needed to be,” Newgarden said on Saturday. “If we had a phenomenal day like we had yesterday, we would be in really good shape. We were just mediocre today. I think we had a car to compete with Will (Power) and (Colton) Herta and (Alexander) Rossi up there, but we just didn’t start up there high enough.
“With the start, I got kind of buried on the inside and I tried to get as much as I could on the outside, but then Santino (Ferrucci) came in running tight – but he was fine. It just got tight, and I got pushed back a little too far. The key for us was being up higher earlier today. I just had to work for a lot just like Scott (Dixon) did. If we had a cleaner qualifying run, I think we really would have had a better day.
“I’m really thankful to Team Chevy. There were two wins for Team Chevy here this weekend. They did a phenomenal job, and obviously having Hitachi support is always big for us. Look, we’re in it with a shot. We’re going to go to St. Pete and try and win this championship. I just wish we were in a little closer position.”
The points gap heading to the season finale in three weeks at St. Pete is down to 32. Newgarden, has made up 85 points since his win at the World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug. 30. He’s had four top four’s in his last five starts. Dixon’s had one top five in the same span. Newgarden, has four top two finishes in his last six starts overall on the year. Dixon, had six in the first eight races but none in the last five.
“It’s definitely been a trying last few race weekends between Mid-Ohio and Indy,” Dixon said. “I’m still mad at myself for making that mistake at Mid-Ohio and letting those points get away.
“As always, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES points title comes down to the last race, and even without the double points like we’ve seen before. I’m just really proud of this PNC Bank team and everyone who works so hard to win. Honda has been pushing hard, and we’re always proud to be powered by them along with HPD. Congrats to Will(Power) and Josef (Newgarden) on the wins here. That’s what we’ll be trying to do in St. Petersburg.”
You get a heated battle now. All the momentum is on Newgarden with all the pressure on Dixon. I mean, Dixon has led the points after literally every race in 2020. Can he lose it in the end when it matters the most?
32 points is still a healthy lead though. But, Newgarden outscored Dixon by 32 points on Friday too. So, it’s possible. Plus, Dixon isn’t qualifying great right now either. Three of his last four efforts have been 12th or worse. Newgarden, has started in the top nine for six straight races and eight of his last nine tries. Among those last six are three in the top three.
Newgarden, is the defending race winner on the streets of St. Pete but Dixon finished second to him last year to though. Penske has won four of the last six years in St. Pete with Ganassi one win ever and that wasn’t by Dixon. In fact, Dixon is 0-for-15 at St. Pete and hasn’t led a lap there since 2012. He does though have seven finishes in his last eight St. Pete starts with two of the last three being podiums.
They don’t call Dixon the Ice Man for nothing. He isn’t known to crack under pressure.