Scott Dixon looked like he had the IndyCar Series championship locked down at the start of the 2020 season. He seemed untouchable while the rest of his competition suffered rookie mistakes and struggled to find their footing. People started wondering how early Dixon could wrap up the season victory. And now he might just find a significant challenger in Josef Newgarden.
Dixon has stumbled in the latter half of 2020, with Mid-Ohio looking to be the turning point. Two 10th-place finishes at the doubleheader saw his significant points lead dwindle while Newgarden seemed to revive Team Penske. He’s racked up three wins to Dixon’s four and has found a consistency he lacked at the start of the year.
In yesterday’s Harvest Grand Prix, Newgarden’s win saw him carve out 32 more points from Dixon’s lead. With only 40 points between them and 50 points up for grabs in today’s win, anything is still possible.
“It’s a shame, the deficit we’ve had in points, but this team has been great all year,” Newgarden said of his championship hopes after yesterday’s race. “It’s still a bit of a hill. We made it smaller, but we’ve gotta have three perfect races. We have one down. There’s two to go.”
Dixon can still be crowned champion today. All he has to do is finish far enough ahead of Newgarden that the gap between them grows to over 55 points.
If you’re not familiar with IndyCar’s points-scoring system, it’s fairly simple. Every finisher earns points, with the winner scoring 50. Drivers can also earn additional points: one point for earning pole position, one point for leading at least one lap, and two points for leading the most laps.
A 55-point lead for Dixon would be insurmountable heading into the season finale. Newgarden would have nothing for the five-time champion.
But if previous doubleheader weekends are anything to go by, the drivers who have the best pace during race one won’t just lose that pace overnight. In fact, when we interviewed Alexander Rossi ahead of the Indy 500, he noted a similar effect.
“If we use Iowa as an example, there were some cars that were quite a bit better in the race than others, but on race number two, everyone hones in on their areas where they were lacking, and it becomes very difficult,” he said. “Everyone’s there for the second go-around... If you’ve got an advantage, yeah, it’s great. If you’re trying to close a gap, it gets very challenging for the second race of the weekend.”
That isn’t to say that Dixon won’t be able to find the pace. His poor starting position ahead of Friday’s race came down to Takuma Sato’s qualifying crash. With a red flag out partway through the session, Dixon wasn’t able to set a competitive lap, which relegated him to a 12th place that he struggled to recover from. Newgarden, on the other hand, qualified second; it made his day a hell of a lot easier.
So, qualifying for race 2 this afternoon is going to play a big role in securing a solid finish. But as 2020 has shown, anything is possible. Crashes, yellow flags, pit stops—it’s all possible today as drivers start fighting for the highest possible championship finish.
Race 2 of the 2020 Harvest GP takes place on Saturday, Oct. 3, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It will air on NBC on 2:30p.m. ET. Qualifying takes place at 10:20a.m. ET on NBCSN.