The final event of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series takes place in the Sunshine State this weekend and the points leader from the launch of the campaign looks for golden rays that result in a championship trophy.
Conversely, the series’ defending kingpin plans to utilize recent positive vibes and parlay the momentum to back-to-back titles.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg races Sunday at 1:30 pm (St. Louis time). Originally scheduled to launch the IndyCar season in March, event organizers and city officials was able to push the pandemic-affected event at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit to the end of the season.
The drama runs deep for this shootout. For the fifteenth consecutive season, the final race of the docket will determine the series champion.
Propelled by claiming three straight checkered flags to start the season, current points leader Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) is attempting to accomplish something that has only been done twice before: claim a championship from start to finish.
Dixon currently possesses a 32-point edge over defending IndyCar series champ Josef Newgarden (Team Penske), 502-470, with the 100-lap, 180-mile feature as the lone obstacle in his path to a sixth career title.
“As always, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES comes down to the last race of the season,” Dixon said, who won his last title two seasons ago. “It’s nice still to be on the leading side of the points. It’s still a good margin. It gives us a little bit of a window.”
However, that window has been on steady closure over the last races.
After claiming victory at the first day of races at the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on August 29, Dixon’s lead over Newgarden swelled to 117 points.
Newgarden then claimed the win the following day at the Madison, Illinois oval to slice the differential to under triple digits.
As the season progressed, Newgarden continued to claim massive points while Dixon struggled at subsequent events. In the process, Newgarden claimed victory at the first race of the Harvest GP at Indianapolis three weekends ago while finishing fourth in the second race to shore the gap.
Now with the finale in sight, the two premier drivers of the open-wheeled sport must race at optimum levels this weekend. Not only must each finish high, but both also have to be on the good side of fortune and not succumb to either an early crash or mechanical breakdown that results in minimal points.
According to Dixon, it’s not impossible for his adversary to win the title Sunday by a whisker. Newgarden won last year’s event at St. Petersburg and that certainly provides heat to the points leader.
However, Dixon is fully aware his team will earn a championship if his propels his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda to a single-digit finish.
“Josef has to get most laps led, win the pole, win the race and get all 54 points and we have to finish ninth,” Dixon said. “(He) has been good at St. Pete, too. We’ll keep trying hard.”
Newgarden aims for his third IndyCar title and knows the chance are not entirely improbable.
“Look, we’re in it with a shot,” Newgarden said. “We’re going to go to St. Pete and try and win this championship. I just wish we were in a little closer position.”
Other potentials for victory this weekend include Colton Herta (Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport) who currently sits third in the standings and veteran Will Power (Team Penske) who sits fourth and eyes a third win this year.
Sunday’s race can be seen locally on KSDK, Channel 5.
Arch City Media will have a full recap following the race.