Prior to his win at World Wide Technology Raceway on Sunday, Josef Newgarden’s chances of earning back-to-back NTT IndyCar Series championships ranged from slim to none.
The odds of tracking down Scott Dixon and claiming his third IndyCar title since 2017 are still rather imposing, but after pulling into victory lane with the No. 1 Team Penske Chevy as Dixon’s No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda languished back in fifth, the Tennessean took 20 points off the New Zealander’s imposing lead.
An improvement from 117 points behind Dixon to 96 with five races remaining is not an impossible sum to overcome, and if he’s going to prevent the Kiwi from becoming a six-time champion, more wins will be required. Help will also be needed from Dixon, provided he records more average finishes behind Penske’s primary contender. On Saturday, a win by Dixon and a 12th by Newgarden was the polar opposite of the 29-year-old’s wishes.
“We can’t give up on the championship yet,” said an energized Newgarden. “Yesterday was a pretty big blow. We’ve been bitten by bad luck this year. The yellows have gone against us in three or four of the eight races. But, what are you going to do? Sometimes they come to you, sometimes they don’t. But that is racing. You just have to get on a good cycle. Maybe this will be a kick start as we head toward the end of the season.”
Although Newgarden remains in the title race, his only hope is to continue finishing ahead of Dixon, and in heavy points-paying positions. With 96 points in hand, Dixon only needs to shadow Newgarden to keep from being overtaken. It’s scenarios like WWTR Round 2 where real damage is done with a win by the Penske driver and finishes of fifth or worse delivering double-digit points gains to Newgarden.
Repeating WWTR Round 2 at both Mid-Ohio races, both Indy Harvest Grand Prix rounds, and the season finale at St. Petersburg is the formula for Newgarden to follow. For Dixon, who has finished every race of 2020, and all — barring one — inside the top five, the mission is to win or stay within one or two spots of Newgarden in the next few races. If he can impose his plan, the math will leave Newgarden praying for miracles well before the season draws to a close.