Race Weekend Central

Scott Dixon Takes IndyCar Championship, Josef Newgarden Wins at 2020 St. Pete Grand Prix

Only 32 points separated NTT IndyCar Series championship contenders Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden entering the season finale at St. Petersburg. But despite Newgarden’s exceptional win, Dixon’s third-place finish was enough to secure the 2020 IndyCar championship. That means he has six titles under his belt, the most for any open-wheel driver since the IRL was created in 1996.

“It definitely started [dominant], but it’s all the team,” Dixon said about his 2020 season. “I can’t thank everyone enough. Even the deficit going into Indy, they nailed it.”

When asked how he felt about going after a seventh championship to tie A.J. Foyt’s all-time record, Dixon sounded optimistic: “Six is good. Seven sounds better.”

As for the race itself, Team Penske driver Will Power led the field to green with championship contenders Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon starting in eighth and 12th, respectively.

Power, though, had a gearbox problem. He fell back through the field and lost positions to Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe, who moved up to first, second and third places. Newgarden made some desperate moves for position in his attempt to march to the front. Both Rossi and Herta began setting fast laps, building up a gap between themselves and their competition.

Off-sequence pit stops started early, with Scott McLaughlin and Felix Rosenqvist coming in on laps 11 and 12. The hope was that different strategy would pull them up to the front of the grid.

But all focus remained on the title contenders. Before long, Newgarden had moved up to seventh and Dixon to ninth. Newgarden took his stop on lap 29 and Dixon took his first stop on lap 30, slightly earlier than planned. They came out separated by a single position. The former took the softer red tires while the latter took harder blacks, which were designed to give Dixon an advantage on the long run.

Power came out of the pits several laps later and came out close to Newgarden, immediately starting to battle him. The two ultimately separated without making contact, with Power right in front of Dixon.

As pit stops cycled through, race leader Rossi made his tires last longer than everyone else and came out in the lead.

The first caution came out on lap 36 after Power brushed the wall and retired. It bunched up the grid for the restart on lap 41. Rossi once again took the lead while Newgarden was able to move up a position to take fourth.

Racing didn’t last long as Santino Ferrucci crashed into the wall, causing another yellow. During that caution, Conor Daly slapped the wall after one of his tires deflated. Both title contenders avoided the incidents.

The race went green again on lap 47. Rossi once again took off with Rosenqvist trying to unlap himself.

But yet again, there was a yellow. McLaughlin got into the back of Marco Andretti, then Rinus Veekay drove up the back of him. McLaughlin ended his day with the crash.

Another green came on lap 53. Rosenqvist tucked up behind Rossi to attempt to get his lap back, but Rossi still managed to secure the lead. Dixon had a tight battle with Jack Harvey and Graham Rahal before ultimately making up two spots.

Andretti made up several positions on the restart, overtaking two cars in one corner. He had made up 15 positions since the start in what looked to be his best drive in nearly a decade.

During a commercial break, second-place driver Herta went off track and lost several positions, falling in behind Newgarden.  Newgarden, though, decided to pit on lap 66 for sticker black tires and the instructions that he need to “go real hard” on his out laps. Dixon followed the next lap, exiting the pit just in front of Veekay.

On lap 70, Rossi crashed. He got out into the marbles and couldn’t save it, slamming hard into the wall. There was too much damage for him to continue which meant, despite Herta’s spin, he inherited the lead.

The race went green again on lap 75, with Herta out front but Hinchcliffe and Alex Palou right behind him. That’s when Andretti was tagged and pushed off track, bringing out another caution. Hinchcliffe also sustained damage, his front wing beginning to fall off. He spun off the track and attempted to rejoin, tagging Jack Harvey in the process. During the ensuing yellow, a light rain shower started.

Through it all, both IndyCar championship contenders remained unscathed as the green flew on lap 80. Starting from third, Newgarden passed both Herta and Palou for the lead; meanwhile, Dixon moved up to fourth.

Behind them, Oliver Askew was punted into the wall by Takuma Sato on lap 81. Yes, there was another yellow flag. There were so many cautions, in fact, that the pace car ran out of fuel.

The final green flag waved with 16 laps to go. Newgarden paced the field while Pato O’Ward passed Dixon and Herta, immediately charging after Newgarden. Herta went into the wall yet again but was able to get refired and back on track. His incident gave clear air to Dixon in third, where he cruised in perfect position for a title.

That was how the grid stayed until the checkered flag flew. Newgarden took his first win at St. Pete while Dixon’s third was more than enough to secure a sixth championship. O’Ward finished second, Sebastien Bourdais fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top-five drivers.

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Unofficial Results

Newgarden was full of conflicting emotions in his post-race interview.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Newgarden said. “On one hand, I don’t really know what I’d do different this year. I don’t know what I’d ask my guys to do different. They were flawless all year… We just came up short.

“We’ll reset. We’ll hit ‘em harder next year. I promise you we’ll be in the fight.”

Newgarden won the 2019 IndyCar championship and was seeking his third title in four years.

The 2021 IndyCar season will kick off in March with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

About the author

Elizabeth Blackstock is lead IndyCar writer for Frontstretch, a freelance journalist, and a novelist. She earned her bachelor's degree at the University of Texas at Austin and is currently pursuing a dual MFA/MA degree at Arcadia University. She is in love with her car, a 2013 Mazda 2.

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