Thirteen was a lucky number for Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden as the reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion used the 13th round of the season to take more points off of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, whose late-season fade continued at the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader.
Prior to the start of Round 1 on Friday, Dixon held an imposing 72-point lead over Newgarden, but a perfect day by the Penske driver dropped his rival’s advantage to 40 markers. It wasn’t a win and pole for Newgarden in Round 2, but his fourth-place finish, as Dixon took a distant eighth, cut the lead to 32 points, which sets up a showdown at the season finale, October 25 in St. Petersburg.
“Man, if we could have had a phenomenal day like yesterday, we’d be in really good shape,” said the reigning champion. “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.”
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For the team that could do nothing wrong in the opening nine races of the year, recent results suggest almost nothing has gone right for the No. 9 Honda squad. Dixon’s quest for a sixth championship peaked at a 117-point advantage over the field, and since then, the points loss has been remarkable.
Compared to Newgarden’s No. 1 Chevy and its last four finishes of P2, P8, P1, and P4 for an average of 3.75, Dixon’s entry, by comparison, has repeatedly stumbled: A P10, P10, P9, and P8 string leave the No. 9 with an average finish of 9.25. With the curious absence of qualifying and race pace on too many occasions, Newgarden has cut away two-thirds of Dixon’s lead since Race 1 at World Wide Technology Raceway (which Dixon won), carving the deficit from 96 to 32 points.
In acknowledging his slide at the conclusion of the Harvest Grand Prix, Dixon also noted that Newgarden’s emboldened charge is not a guarantee that the lead will change hands at St. Petersburg. For that to happen, the Penske driver will need another perfect event, and for the No. 9 Honda to suffer a lack of front-running speed.
“I was loose the whole race,” Dixon said. “We tried everything. It was flat out. Interesting day for us. I think we’re 32 points out in the lead now (and) have to be ninth or better come St. Pete. As always, the NTT IndyCar Series comes down to the final race – even with the lead we had, over 100 points at one stage.”
Just as Newgarden claimed the maximum available 54 points with Friday’s IMS road course win, he’ll need a repeat – and Dixon’s aforementioned finish of 10th or worse – to claim his third crown. If the No. 1 Chevy is good, but not great at St. Pete, Dixon will have a much easier path to complete his season-long ownership of the championship lead.
“It’s nice still to be on the leading side of the points at this stage,” he added. “It’s a good margin… (but) we’re definitely going to have our work cut out.”