After Scott Dixon most recently won Aug. 29 at World Wide Technology Raceway, Josef Newgarden found it “slightly demoralizing” to look at the 117-point gap to the IndyCar title leader.
In the five races since, Newgarden has sliced the deficit to 32 points entering the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida – giving the Team Penske driver a shot at defending his championship and winning a third NTT IndyCar Series title.
But the way the 2020 season unfolded still is slightly demoralizing for Newgarden, who opened the season with finishes of third, seventh and 14th while Dixon won three consecutive to lead the points after every race.
“I knew it was a monumental mountain,” Newgarden told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in a Thursday interview (watch the video above). “Now to see how much we’ve chipped away over the last five events from that point with one to go, it’s almost more disappointing with how close we are now and knowing where I think we could have been if things had gone differently throughout the season.
“So in one way, I’m really happy we have an opportunity, and that’s what we need to focus on now is that we have a chance to win the championship. But looking on the other side and seeing where we could have been, it’s tough to not look at that and be disappointed, too. But it’s not the focus we can have at the moment. I don’t want to get in the mindset of what could have been. … You just reverse a couple of those early races and have a very different picture coming into the finale.”
Since his July 18 victory (his first of three this season) from the pole position at Iowa Speedway, Newgarden has four podiums in eight races and only one finish outside the top 10.
He will enter St. Petersburg knowing that even if he wins, Dixon still can clinch the title with an eighth or better. But Newgarden also is the most recent winner at St. Pete, a track where Penske has been very strong, and Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing team has yet to conquer.
St. Pete, which normally is the season opener but was rescheduled because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, will mark the first time the IndyCar Series has concluded its season on a street course (the last time it happened in Champ Car was 2007 at Surfers Paradise, Australia).
Last year, the finale was held on the WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca road course. Prior to that, the season ended on the Sonoma Raceway road course and a handful of ovals – all of which tend to be more predictable than a tight and tough street course such as St. Pete.
“The good news for me is it can be a chaotic event,” Newgarden said of the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course that includes an airport runway. “From my position, you want that. From Scott’s standpoint, I think he would have enjoyed a more straightforward race weekend. The fun of a street course at St. Pete is you don’t know what’s going to happen. It can cause chaos, which is not a bad thing. It spices up the race. It elevates your adrenaline to be aware what’s going on around you at the start.
“For me, it definitely says opportunity is going to be present. If we can focus on being the quickest car there, putting it on pole and trying to run away and win the race, things we need to happen in the back of the pack are more likely at St. Pete than Laguna or GP of Indy. There’s more opportunity for things to fall into place like we need in the season finale.”
While Newgarden will get to enjoy a quiet weekend at home in Tennessee, Dixon will be racing Saturday in the Petit Le Mans for Wayne Taylor Racing’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship IMSA entry – which leads to a few more pangs of regret
“I wish I was racing,” Newgarden said with a laugh. “I see all the photos and wish I was at Petit, too. The cards haven’t worked out for me yet to go experience the sports car side, but believe me when I say that’s something I want to do. I’ve been working on it for years now, just not worked out unfortunately. I’m home, I am relaxed, I can focus on next weekend. But if I had my pick, I’d rather be in a race car this weekend.”
Click here or below to watch Newgarden’s interview with Diffey.