INDIANAPOLIS — The penultimate race of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season will take place on Saturday from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Saturday afternoon. The second race in as many days will mark an intense Harvest Grand Prix (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). See, Josef Newgarden chopped 32 more points off Scott Dixon’s lead on Friday via his first career Indy Car victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Dixon, struggled and finished ninth.
Since the second race at the World Wide Technology Raceway back on Aug. 30, Newgarden has finished either first or second three times in four tries. Dixon’s finishes in that timeframe are fifth, 10th, 10th and ninth respectively. He and Newgarden have essentially flipped their results with Dixon scoring six top two finishes in the first eight races of the year himself. This span has seen Newgarden cut Dixon’s lead by 77 and it could shorten even more on Saturday.
Newgarden, qualified ninth in his No. 1 Chevrolet. Dixon, will start 15th in his No. 9 Honda. It’s the third time in the last four races that Dixon has started 12th or worse.
The thing is, only once since the start of the 2019 season has the eventual race winner come from a starting spot from outside the top eight. Neither Newgarden nor Dixon will start in the top 4 Rows on Saturday which could honestly hurt Newgarden and help Dixon.
With being 40 points down, Newgarden really needs to cut that in at least half again today in order to feel like he has a legitimate shot at his second straight championship and third in the last four years. There’s only one race left leaving here, a race on the streets at St. Pete, which ironically enough, Newgarden won at last year, but Dixon also finished second to him too.
Dixon, can just stalk Newgarden for much of the race and not lose much ground.
The front of the field may be the ones to watch for the win today. the last four races run have been won from a front row starter. Will Power and Colton Herta share Row 1.
This was Power’s fifth pole on this 2.439-mile IMS layout and in three of his previous four, he won the race from the pole outright. He won the pole at Mid-Ohio in Race 1 and won the race a few weeks ago too.
Herta, had the pace on Friday and won the pole and won the second race at Mid-Ohio too. He’s had two fourth place finishes already here this season and the skill for a podium or even a race win on Saturday.
Alexander Rossi is the next favorite. He started eighth and finished second on Friday. He said this is the best car he’s ever had here on this road course and is entering with three straight podium finishes now on the season.
Six of the last eight races have ben won from a top three starter. I think our winner is among this trio.
The race itself will see a pit strategy race again. We know everyone can likely make this on two stops which means a fuel save race due to the weather conditions. No one went further than 25 laps on a run yesterday and with this race being 10 laps shorter (75 down from 85), you can essentially pit on Lap 25 and Lap 50 and know you can make it to the end.
That can make this race vastly different than yesterday’s in everyone may just elect to stay in wake and save fuel. But, does anyone just go with a three strategy still and go qualifying laps every lap?
We know the Red’s are the preferred tire and everyone has to run at least one stint on Black’s, but Newgarden has an extra set of Red’s due to saving them from Friday’s race. He finished on Black’s and no one could still catch him.
With drivers needing to run longer on fuel runs to save fuel, are the Black tires the way to go on Saturday in order to make it a full 25 laps on a run and not lose too much ground? Herta, went to the blacks at the start of Friday’s race and if on them, drivers were pitting early to get to the faster Red’s. But, by doing so, he had to stretch his fuel runs on the reds and his tires went away quick.
So, strategy is going to be key again with who does what. Do you run the black’s longer knowing that the Red’s may be faster and pull away but stay close enough to where you can pounce as the end of the stint gets closer?
Saturday will be a strategy day.
You also have some guys needing to be conservative. Marco Andretti went from inside the leaders circle payout to outside when his car caught fire on Lap 79. He finished last and trails Sebastien Bourdais by three points.
The 98 and 14 cars are going to be ones to watch with Bourdais struggling in his first race weekend of the season. He was only 21st on Friday and qualified just 21st again on Saturday. Andretti, starts 12th and had top 10 pace before the mechanical failure at the end of Friday’s race.
Conor Daly moved the ECR No. 20 entry from -1 to +11 with a 12th place finish on Friday. He starts 23rd though on Saturday. Daly, told me on Thursday that they’re going to be conservative this weekend in hopes of staying in the top 22 of points.
The No. 26 entry being driven by James Hinchcliffe is now +24 as he finished 14th on Friday and starts 13th on Saturday. He’s in good shape.