ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — It’s fitting that the only drivers to win an NTT IndyCar Series championship over the last three years are the only ones who could hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy this weekend on the streets of St. Pete. It’s defending series champion Josef Newgarden vs. five time champion Scott Dixon. Other than Simon Pagenaud’s triumph in 2016, these are the only two driver to have won a championship in INDYCAR since 2015.
Mono y mono.
Who’s taking home the crown on Sunday afternoon?
Once upon a time ago, that driver was supposed to be Scott Dixon. Heading into the race weekend at the World Wide Technology Raceway, Dixon led Josef Newgarden by 84 points. After his win in Race 1 of that weekend, the advantage grew to 117 points.
Now, it’s down to 32 points five races later.
Newgarden, has made up an astounding 85 points in the last five races run and none of them were doublepoints races at that. Can he make up 32 more in one race? After all, he did exactly that by scoring max points in Race 1 of the Harvest Grand Prix with a front row start (1 point), a lap led (1 point), most laps led (2 points) and a race win (50 points). Dixon, finished ninth and scored 22 points. That’s 54-22 which equals 32 points gained.
That’s what it’s going to take on Sunday at the very least.
Still, even if Newgarden and Dixon do the exact same thing, it won’t be enough. Newgarden and Dixon would tie at 522 points scored through 14 races. They’d each have four race wins too, which means that we have to go to the second tiebreaker which is runner-up results. Currently, Dixon has two (Iowa 1, Indy 500) with Newgarden one (Mid-Ohio 1).
That means all Dixon has to do is finish ninth or better on Sunday and the sixth championship is his.
Dixon has done that in four straight years on the streets of St. Pete including every year with the exception of one since 2012. In fact, he has two podiums in his last three St. Pete starts.
Where this is tricky is, Dixon finished 10th in both Mid-Ohio races and ninth and eighth respectively in the last two races on the IMS road course.
That’s why Newgarden really does have a chance. He’s scored three top two finishes in his last five races on the season. He won last year’s race at St. Pete after leading the most laps that year too. But, that’s also his only top five finish in eight career St. Pete starts too.
See where this could go either way?
St. Pete is going to come down to qualifying. Dixon’s problems have stemmed from their struggled in that round. He only qualified 11th. He’s qualified 11th or worse in four of his last five starts. Newgarden meanwhile has qualified third or better in three of his last five tries with a Fast Six start in four of the last seven races overall.
But, he couldn’t make up for Dixon’s struggled and will only start eighth.
Where this is big is, the last five INDYCAR races have been won from the front row. Seven of the last eight have been won from a top three starting spot. Since the start of the 2019 season, all but one race has been won from a top 10 starting spot at that.
Nine of the last 11 winners at St. Pete have come from the top 2 Rows.
As you can see, qualifying is going to be the biggest key here. If Newgarden doesn’t lead the most laps, then Dixon at that point just needs to finish 10th or better and the title is his. If he wins the race but doesn’t get any other bonus points, which will be hard to do now, then Dixon just needs to finish 11th or better. 18 of his last 21 INDYCAR starts have seen him finish 10th or better, so the odds are still stacked against Newgarden despite him having all the momentum still.
He has to be perfect. But, he also needs some big time luck too.
I’ll take Dixon.