NTT IndyCar Series championship leader Scott Dixon could have his worst day of the year and still manage to defeat Josef Newgarden for the title at Sunday’s season finale.
A trip to the podium with third place on the rostrum would elevate Newgarden to 505 points, but it would also leave the defending series champion feeling unfulfilled; finishing last among the 25 cars entered would elevate Dixon to 507 points, which illustrates how much magic Newgarden needs to conjure if he wants to hold onto the title.
While it’s true to say the 32-point lead Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing entry holds over Newgarden’s Team Penske outfit is a shadow of its former self (the gap reached a peak of 117 points between the No. 9 CGR Honda and the No. 1 Penske Chevy as recently as August 29), it continues to serve as a margin that won’t be easily erased.
For two-time champion Newgarden, who enters the Firestone Grand Prix at St. Petersburg with 470 points, a perfect weekend is a must; capturing one point for pole, another point for leading, two for leading the most laps, and 50 for the win, would deliver a maximum haul of 54 points and move his total to 524 for the season.
For Dixon, with 502 points to start the championship showdown, a finish of ninth (524) would be enough to counter Newgarden’s immaculate weekend. With the two at a 524-point tie, and equal on four wins apiece, the title would go to Dixon, who has more second-place finishes (two) than the Penske driver (one).
So in the simplest sense, Dixon can neutralize Newgarden’s best-case scenario at St. Petersburg by placing ninth or better at the checkered flag. And frankly, Newgarden cannot afford to reach the finish line with anything other than a win and all the bonus points in the bank.
If he comes home second and takes all four bonus markers, he’d have 514 points amassed, which takes almost all the pressure off Dixon. In that scenario, and even with zero bonus points to his credit, Dixon becomes a six-time champion by trotting home in 18th, which would move him up to 514 points where more wins (four to three) settles the tiebreaker in CGR’s favor.
And as we mentioned to start, if Newgarden is anything other than first or second, Dixon is all but guaranteed to be crowned, unless the Penske man grabs a few bonus points on the way to finishing third.
Finishing fourth or worse, however, ends the conversation for Newgarden, no matter how many extra points are taken. Fourth, plus the maximum bonus, takes Newgarden up to 506, which is one shy of Dixon at the bottom of the field (507) in 25th.
Newgarden’s mission is a podium or bust, with a win as the only mechanism to potentially derail his rival, plus prayers from his fan base for the No. 9 Honda to hit trouble. Dixon’s mission involves a need to be good, but not great, and to dodge those issues for 100 laps in order to become a six-time champ.