Do Dixon or Newgarden need an Indy 500 win soon for validation?

INDIANAPOLIS — There’s no doubt about it, Scott Dixon is likely the best driver right now of this generation of the NTT IndyCar Series. He may end up being among the best ever. But, he may have a replacement in a decade or so. That’s Josef Newgarden.

With the recent youth movement trend, people are forgetting about Newgarden and that he’s really very early in his prime still

See, Dixon’s numbers rival only the likes of AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti. His six championships rank second to Foyt’s seven. His 51 wins rank third to Foyt’s 67 and Andretti’s 52. His 48 runner-ups are second to Andretti’s 56. Just Andretti (144) has more podiums than Dixon’s 125.

In terms of top five finishes, Andretti has 194, Dixon has 178. The next best is Foyt with 149.

Who’s to say Newgarden’s won’t look like that 18 years into his career?

By year eight of his open wheel racing career, Dixon had two championships, 17 wins and 31 podiums. For his first eight combined years, Newgarden had two championships, 14 wins and 29 podiums.

Now, in his 10th season in IndyCar, Newgarden is still on track. He’s scored 18 wins, 11 poles, 36 podiums, 56 top fives and 89 top 10’s in his first 152 starts. Dixon, had 23 wins, 41 podiums and 13 poles through his first 152 starts including two championships too.

As you can see, Newgarden certainly in trending in Dixon’s direction, even more so since he joined Team Penske in 2017.

In five seasons with Ed Carpenter Racing, Newgarden scored three wins, 10 podiums, won just one pole and led 679 laps. In his fifth season now with Penske, Newgarden has 15 wins, 26 podiums, 10 poles and has led 1,820 laps.

Dare I say he could be better than Dixon?

So, while he’s on a trajectory to be in the conversation with Dixon in career achievements, they’re also similar in another role – Indy 500 crowns. Newgarden, has never won one. He’s 0-for-8. Dixon, has just one Indy 500 victory (2008) as he’s 1-for-18. Last year, he led 111 laps but finished second. Is there any of them other than last year that stands out as what might have been?

Do we rank IndyCar drivers based off of Indy 500 wins or championships? For years, it’s been all about ‘500 victories and how many you have. Maybe that trend is shifting.

Does Newgarden need an Indy 500 victory to solidify his place in IndyCar lore? He’s been close in recent years. The Tennessee native was third with ECR in 2016. He was eighth in 2018 and fourth last year. He heads to this year’s race with four top 10 finishes in his last five tries.

Is the ‘500 a main piece missing? Does he even care?

“We haven’t left anything else behind,” Newgarden said.

Newgarden, has won two NTT IndyCar Series championships to his credit. He nearly won a third last year. But, the one thing that’s nagging in the back of his head still is the lack of an Indy 500 win. That lack of taste of the milk in victory lane isn’t quenching his thirst.

“We want to win an Indy 500,” Newgarden said. “For me specifically, that’s a big goal. I’ve not won that race. Obviously as a team, we’ve had a lot of success there. They’d like to add to that. For me, I’d like to get my first.”

See, Penske is synonymous with Indy success. Heading into 2020, Roger Penske had just purchased the place. He figuratively and now literally owned victory lane. But, Penske’s cars struggled on track in August. They finished P4-11-14-22. They were rarely found up front on any speed chart all month.

That’s not good enough for Penske. It was honestly rare to see. So, instead of staying status quo, Penske has been all-in on an Indy 500 victory in 2021. That’s what makes this month so incredibly puzzling.

“Last year our qualifying form was not strong,” Newgarden continued. “We were all disappointed with our speed. That was first and foremost. How do we fix the speed of the cars from last season? There’s been a tremendous amount of work that’s been put in. We have the best of the best in my opinion when it comes to talent and personnel. There’s been no shortage of effort and time to make these Penske racecars as fast as possible. That was first and foremost.

“Then I think the race condition of the car, how does it really work across 30 laps on a set of tires in multiple-car drafts? That’s probably the most important ingredient nowadays is just figuring out if you get buried 10 or 15 cars back, how is your car reacting in that much dirty air. That was something we needed to be stronger at.

“Just outright speed and the car’s potential in a big wake. That’s all different this year, too. We tried to learn where we were deficient last year, but now we also need to figure out where we need to be better in the future with the new aero parts. Quite a bit of difference with not only the front wing but the underside build of the car aerodynamically. There’s going to be some new elements. The car is going to drive different. We need to be better all around.”

Newgarden says that you never know when it’s your day, and that he knows that having driven this place nine times, going into his tenth, that you’ve just got to be prepared for the opportunity.

“You’ve got to put yourself in position here,” he said. “That’s the key element, I think, is giving yourself an opportunity to win the race, and if it’s your day, then you need to seize it.

“Yeah, we feel good. It’s been a blast working with everybody, as always. I’m always excited to be here. Always have fun every single day. Trying to stay calm and collected and make sure you’re absorbing any knowledge you can each day. Whether it’s good or bad knowledge, it all helps you at the end of the day.”

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