Do Newgarden/Dixon need an Indy win to validate careers?

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 there ever was too. 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 49 runner-ups are second to Andretti’s 56. Just Andretti (144) has more podiums than Dixon’s 127.

In terms of top five finishes, Andretti has 194, Dixon has 183. 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 11th season in IndyCar, Newgarden is still on track. He’s scored 22 wins, 15 poles, 43 podiums, 64 top fives and 102 top 10’s in his first 169 starts. Dixon, had 25 wins, 56 podiums, 78 top fives, 119 top 10’s and 14 poles through his first 168 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.

Josef Newgarden lucked out by the lightning coming from the sky on Saturday. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

In five seasons with Ed Carpenter Racing, Newgarden scored three wins, 10 podiums, won just one pole and led 679 laps. In his sixth season now with Penske, Newgarden has 18 wins, 33 podiums, 14 poles and has led 2,150 laps.

Dare I say he could be better than Dixon? They 2 have combined to win 4 of the last 5 season championships too.

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-10. Dixon, has just one Indy 500 victory (2008) as he’s 1-for-19.

However, on both days during the two-day test last month, each were quickest. Dixon led the way on Wednesday and Newgarden on Thursday. Dixon scored his 5th career pole last Sunday.

“I don’t think this place owes me anything,” said Dixon. “We’ve had the car to win some, but hey, if we didn’t get it right we didn’t get it right. We didn’t deserve it. I know there’s a couple where we thought we’ve had a good run at it but it didn’t happen. I feel very fortunate to have raced here. It’s the same goal for everybody. Unfortunately, there’s 32 others that want the same thing.”

Despite all of that, Dixon has just one Indy 500 win. In 2020, he started second, led 111 laps, but came home second in the end. Then last year, he won the pole, was quickest on Day 2 of practice, fastest on Fast Friday, fastest on Carb Day and best in both qualifying days. He was the man to beat. The stars were aligning.

A fluke crash on pit road in the middle of the opening pit sequence ruined that for him this year. In 2017, he won the pole for the ‘500, was robbed at gun point in a Taco Bell drive through that night, look the part in the early portions of the race itself but in a fluke way, ran over Jay Howard’s slow car in Turn 1 and launched airborne in a frightening crash.

If it could go wrong for Dixon at Indy, it has. What does he have to do to win again here? He’s 1-for-19. Can he get a second win in 20 tries this month?

He’s not won the race in his last 13 attempts. In fact, he’s had a top two starting spot in 5 of the last 8 years here. He’s just not won.

Only Rick Mears’ six Indy 500 poles is more than Dixon’s five.

Furthermore, Dixon is third on the all-time lap leaders chart and is only 74 laps led away from tying Al Unser for most laps led in Indy history. He led 111 laps alone in 2020. He’s also just 43 laps led away from moving past Ralph DePalma for second place on the list.

Also, 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 and second respectively the last two years.

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.”

He just won Long Beach last month. Indy next?

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