When the IndyCar series kicked off its 2020 season, Chip Ganassi Racer Scott Dixon looked unstoppable. So dominant was he that fans just assumed he’d take home the championship at the end of the year and started paying attention to the battle for second and third. After all, at one point, Dixon’s gap to second place was well over 100 points. Surely that would be insurmountable.
And then Dixon fumbled. And he fumbled hard.
Now, it’s important to note that, for Dixon, “fumbling” isn’t quite the same as it would be for us mere mortals. In fact, his performances haven’t even been terrible: he’s only finished outside the top 10 once this season, and that was back in July. No. Instead, Dixon has merely grown a little more mediocre than usual, and it has allowed his competition to catch up.
But in September and October, when he really needed his dominance most, Dixon began to slide down the ranks. At Mid-Ohio in September, a track that’s generally strong for the New Zealander, he had a pair of 10th-place finishes.
Then this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he was caught out again. A ninth and an eighth are by no means bad finishing positions, but luck just wasn’t on his side. In qualifying for the first race, Takuma Sato crashed and brought out a red flag, meaning that Dixon was unable to set a fast lap. At the start of the second race, he made contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay and punctured his undertray.
2020 has been one hell of a season. Two of the series’ most dominant teams, Andretti Autosport and Team Penske, struggled to find their footing. Alexander Rossi, for example, is one of the usual suspects contesting for the championship. This year, he’s sitting in ninth place. Team Penske has also been inconsistent, with one exception. Josef Newgarden.
Newgarden is trailing Dixon by only 32 points as we head into the season finale and has powered through the ranks like some kind of silent assassin. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s been consistently racking up points and growing stronger as the year progresses. But no one would have expected the reigning champion to have pushed Dixon into a corner.
“Man, if we could have had a phenomenal day like yesterday, we’d be in really good shape,” Newgarden said after Saturday’s race, where he finished fourth. “But we were mediocre today. We just didn’t start high up enough. We’re in it with a shot. We can go to St. Pete now and try and win this championship. Just wish we were in a closer position.”
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.
It’s not like Dixon to slip up, but it’s also not like Dixon to blow a 117-point championship lead. Nothing is impossible, and I think anyone who has lived through the chaos of 2020 will admit that stranger things have happened.
“It’s nice still to be on the leading side of the points at this stage,” Dixon said in an interview on Saturday. But he also acknowledged the other side of the coin: “We’re definitely going to have our work cut out for us.”