The good news for Josef Newgarden: There are nearly 200 scenarios in which he can clinch the IndyCar championship Sunday at St. Petersburg, Florida.
The bad news is there are nearly 19,700 ways in which rival Scott Dixon will win the championship.
Entering the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a 32-point lead, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who has led the standings since opening the season with three consecutive victories, is a heavy favorite for his sixth championship.
Now that Newgarden didn’t gain a bonus point for a pole in qualifying, Dixon will clinch the title with an 11th-place better regardless of where Newgarden finishes.
TITLE OUTLOOK: Click here for the championship-clinching scenarios
ENTRY LIST: Here are the 24 drivers racing at St. Pete
But Dixon remains stung by two lost weekends at Mid-Ohio and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, losing nearly 70 points off his lead over four races and ensuring the IndyCar championship will be settled at the season finale for the 15th consecutive season.
“It was definitely a trying last few race weekends between Mid-Ohio and Indy,” said Dixon, who has an average finish of 8.4 in 15 starts at St. Pete. “I’m still mad at myself for making that mistake (in a spin) at Mid-Ohio and letting those points get away. As always, the NTT IndyCar Series points title comes down to the last race, and even without the double points like we’ve seen before. I’m just really proud of this PNC Bank team and everyone who works so hard to win. Honda has been pushing hard. For whatever reason, we were just struggling to get comfortable with the balance of the car the last few races and that’s one of the key things we’ll be working on for St. Petersburg.”
Dixon, who has four victories this year, needs 22 points to clinch and holds all the tiebreakers.
I could tell you all the stats I looked up about the 2020 #IndyCar championship battle. or I could create an infographic. I chose option B.https://t.co/sSDi5Q3Sbi pic.twitter.com/mnLX1GxioG
— Arni Sribhen (@neckthai) October 19, 2020
Depending on maximum bonus points (one for leading a lap, one for a pole position, two for leading the most laps), Newgarden could win the championship with a Dixon finish as high as 10th. Newgarden must finish at least third to have a shot.
“It really all comes down to this weekend,” said Newgarden, who has three victories this season. “It’s been a year where the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet and our team have been through a lot, from success to dealing with mistakes to just the victim of bad timing. But none of that matters headed into this weekend. We either win the championship or we don’t. My Hitachi Chevy team has put everything they have into this season, and they plan to keep working hard through the race weekend. It’s going to certainly be a tough battle with Scott Dixon this weekend because he has been so strong and consistent all year. We can’t afford to make mistakes, so strategy and execution will be critical. We feel really good with the momentum we have right now, but you can never count out a guy like Dixon.”
In the likely event that both complete all 100 laps in Sunday’s race, Newgarden and Dixon also are playing for some history. Both can join Tony Kanaan (2004) and Simon Pagenaud (2017) as the only drivers to complete every lap during the season.