The NTT IndyCar Series championship is coming to a close on Sunday, and the battle for the Astor Cup has come down to the very last race. Right now, there are 19,872 different outcomes for championship contenders Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon to score points—and only one percent of those outcomes will secure defending series champion Newgarden another title.
But despite the low odds, Newgarden was still positive during a press conference earlier this week: “You’re saying there’s a chance, and that’s all we need.”
He certainly still has a shot. To win the championship, he’ll have to win the race and rack up all the extra points available for fast laps while Dixon will have to finish 10th or lower. In a word, he’ll have to be perfect. That’s a big ask—but it’s not one Team Penske is unfamiliar with, especially considering the team’s motto is just that. “Penske Perfect.”
Newgarden, though, isn’t worried:
I don’t feel the pressure so much on our end. You probably normally don’t when you’re pursuing versus trying to hold someone off. I’m surprised we’re here, to be honest. It almost makes it more disappointing looking at the year now that we’ve clawed back to this point. We were in such a deficit, there was such a hill. We’ve reduced the hill, without a doubt, but it’s still a mountain to climb. It’s going to be a very hard task for us to try to win the championship.
He isn’t wrong. Penske started off on the back foot in 2020, leaving the team to play catch-up as the unpredictable, rapid-fire season progressed. Newgarden was the team’s shining star, with the No. 1 driver scoring outside of the top 10 only twice compared to Will Power and Simon Pagenaud’s six times each.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, though, just looked impeccable. He won the first three races of the year and then proceeded to build up an insurmountable points lead that, at one point, saw him 117 points ahead of Newgarden in second place.
“I made a pretty big mistake at Mid-Ohio,” Dixon said in Wednesday’s press conference. “Had I not spun, I think it would have been a different scenario going into the last race.”
That said, he didn’t seem to have many regrets, even as the gap between himself and Newgarden began to shrink.
“I think these adversities, obviously the ups and downs throughout the season, is what makes IndyCar racing. You see these runaways, then you see them get caught. The situations always come down to the wire, which is typical and great to see I think for the sport and for the fans, for everybody involved.”
The season finale, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, is the first street race of the 2020 IndyCar schedule and also the first street race since the introduction of the aeroscreen. No driver will really know if the aeroscreen will play a role in spatial awareness with such close-together walls. And with high temperatures, drivers will likely be subjected to grueling cockpit head, a problem that hasn’t been fully solved.
Whatever the case may be, today’s qualifying session is going to be crucial. Street circuits make for difficult passing maneuvers, so the higher up you qualify, the more likely you are to stay near the front. As I noted before, Newgarden will need to be perfect if Dixon finishes 10th or higher, so he’s going to need pole position. But you can guarantee that Dixon is going to be pushing for the same thing in the hope that he’ll keep his competition away from the championship.