With only three rounds left of the 2020 NTT IndyCar season, all eyes are turning to the championship race. As he has done for the entire season, Scott Dixon currently tops the points standings and looks well on his way to claiming the Astor Cup and winning a remarkable sixth IndyCar title.
The reigning series champion Josef Newgarden is still within shouting distance, however, and will do everything in his power to close down the gap and secure his third series championship. What will it take to actually accomplish an unlikely, late-season comeback?
Can Dixon cruise to number six?
Heading into this weekend’s Harvest GP double-header at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Dixon holds a commanding 72-point lead over his nearest rival Newgarden. The five-time champion has been at the top of the standings all season after impressively winning the opening three rounds.
There is a maximum of 54 points on offer for each race including bonus points, but there are at least five points given to any driver who starts a race to consider as well. Taking into account the possibility of missed races, if Dixon wins the first race on Friday and Newgarden finishes 19th or worse, the title will be decided right then and there.
That scenario is far from the only way the stoic Kiwi can clinch the championship, having only to average seventh place across the final three races to clinch the title. In fact, as long as he prevents Newgarden from making up 23 points over the upcoming double-header weekend, he will be crowned champion in Indianapolis and can take a victory lap of sorts for the final race weekend.
It’s hard to bet against Dixon when, in order to lose his lead, he would have to do something he’s not made a habit of doing over the past 20 years: make mistakes. His ability to minimize mistakes over the years has led to him earning 50 wins in the top level of American open-wheel racing, and could well carry him to his sixth title this season.
Newgarden with an epic comeback?
Newgarden has been the only other competitor with a real chance at the title all season, keeping The Iceman honest by earning three pole awards and standing on the podium four times. But his chances are quickly dwindling as the season nears its conclusion.
The 28-year-old Team Penske driver has to have a set of phenomenal races and hope that the points leader runs into trouble in order to keep his hopes alive. Newgarden needs to gain an average of 24 points each of the final three races to close down the deficit, a gargantuan task considering he has not gained that many points on Dixon on any single weekend so far this year.
All it takes is one large swing in the finishing order to drastically close the gap, however. If Newgarden takes home his third win of the season on Friday and Dixon suffers a DNF, the deficit could be reduced by two-thirds in a single jump, adding fresh drama to the battle between the top veterans of the sport.
Since there are two races this upcoming weekend and both pay full points, Newgarden could theoretically take the points lead before the finale in St. Petersburg, Florida. That would require Dixon to finish right at the back of the field for both races, though, and that is highly unlikely for the methodical veteran who has only finished outside the top-10 once this entire season.
Any other contenders?
Young drivers Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta sit third and fourth in the points and are mathematically still in the championship fight, but are realistically not going to be able to take the title despite each having strong seasons. O’Ward narrowly missed out his maiden IndyCar win a couple times this season, thus missing out on the large points gain that comes with the top step of the podium.
Currently sitting in fifth place in the points, the 2014 champion Will Power has already been eliminated from contention assuming Dixon starts the next few races. A raft of bad luck at the start of the season put the veteran on the back foot, and he has been focused on getting his momentum back race by race since July, rather than worrying about winning the title this season.
The path for Newgarden to win his second consecutive title is really narrow. It will not only take perfection on his end, but considerable missteps by Dixon in order to take over the top spot in the last few races.
The next two rounds take place back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course this Friday and Saturday at 3:30 EDT and 2:30 EDT respectively. Dixon took the victory when the series visited in July, but the conditions will be much cooler this time around and a repeat victory is far from assured.