Championship contenders Dixon and Newgarden struggle at St. Pete on Saturday

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden sit 1-2 in the NTT INDYCAR Series points standings right now. They finished 1-2 in last years race at St. Pete too. They’re the only ones eligible to win this years title for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) too.

Dixon, leads Newgarden by 32 points entering Sunday’s race around the 1.8-mile Florida street course but he’s also lost 85 points to him over the last five races too. Furthermore, Newgarden is the defending race winner of this race while Dixon is 0-for-15 in his career at St. Pete.

So far this weekend, it doesn’t appear that either of them will win on Sunday though. Newgarden, was eighth fastest in practice on Saturday morning and only qualified his No. 1 Chevrolet eighth for Sunday’s race.

The Tennessee native said that they took a big swing at it for the second round of qualifying but he just never got a clean enough lap to put it in the Fast Six. If he would have found some clean areas on the track, then he feels like he had Fast Six pace.

“Certainly not what we wanted on our side,” said Newgarden. “I felt like we took a swing for Q2. Our Q1 run was pretty good. I was pretty happy with it for the most part. Felt like we chipped away on the next couple runs, a couple things to get us more competitive. Felt like we were there, but we just wanted to probably be aggressive and try to get even further up. I think we ended up probably going the wrong way with our adjustments.

“Kind of a scrappy qualifying in Q2. Unfortunately that puts us eighth. Not a terrible spot to start, but not where we wanted. We wanted to be closer to the front, top three, top five group.

“A little more work to do for tomorrow, but feel positive about our Hitachi car, think Team Chevy has done a good job this weekend. Good confidence that we have something to attack with.”

Still, Newgarden starts in Row 4 in a race he likely needs to win. He qualified ninth at Mid-Ohio 2 and only finished eighth. He also qualified ninth in the second race of the Harvest Grand Prix race weekend and came up to finish fourth. That won’t be good enough on Sunday.

Newgarden, couldn’t capitalize on Dixon’s struggles again and it could hurt him. All Dixon needs to do on Sunday is finish 11th or better and a sixth championship is his.

Dixon, starts 11th as well as this was the fourth time in the last five races that he’s failed to qualify his No. 9 Honda in the top 10. He was in the top 10 in seven of the previous nine races and had eight top fives and six top two’s in those races. Over the last four, his best finish is eighth.

Newgarden, also has three top three starting spots in that time frame and has three top two’s in that span as well. With four finishes inside the top four in the last five races compared to Dixon only being better than eighth just once, that’s why the advantage has been cut as far as it has.

“Yeah, the day started not too bad,” Dixon said. “The car was pretty good. The biggest thing we’ve been struggling with all day is braking. We’ve had a lot of rear locking biases, like 62% or 63%. We didn’t want to change any of the brake setup before qualifying because at least we knew what we had.

“In qualifying, it seemed in Q2 we couldn’t build the tire temp quick enough. It showed on the blacks we were kind of last until the last lap, then we jumped up to fifth. With the slow out-lap on the reds, I just didn’t have enough time. I had to abort the first lap with traffic as well. Really only had one lap. There was no temp in the tires.

“The car was actually pretty good, especially on the long run, once we get temperature into the tires. All three of us have been struggling to turn on the first few laps.

“It is what it is. Starting 11th. Just got to try to stay out of trouble and have a good day.”

Still, their work is cut out for them on Sunday. 12 of the 13 races run this season have been won from a driver coming from a top nine starting spot. 29 of the last 30 have been won from there too. That pretty much eliminates Dixon from winning. 15 of the last 17 have been won from the top seven starting spot.

Nine of the past 11 winners at St. Pete have started in the Fast Six.

This pretty much eliminates Newgarden from winning too. They’ll need some help to get to the top spot.

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