Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and the NTT IndyCar Series were in St. Petersburg, Florida, just more than seven months ago when the start of the 2020 schedule began “falling apart” because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
They will return Sunday for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as IndyCar crowns either Dixon or Newgarden as its champion in one of the circuit’s strangest years ever.
“It’s kind of fitting that we come full circle with this,” Newgarden said. “It was odd to be there at the beginning of the year when everything fell apart, not just in IndyCar, but the world really. To be able to finally come back and run the race is great. To have some fans there is fantastic. Hopefully have a little bit of energy.”
There will be up to 20,000 fans at the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit in downtown St. Petersburg this weekend, and they will be witnessing the championship being decided in the IndyCar season finale for the 15th consecutive year.
The season wasn’t perfect. The Indianapolis 500 went off without fans, and the schedule was shortened from 17 to 14 races as several venues couldn’t host (St. Pete will mark the only street race).
But for an outcome that seemed virtually impossible when St. Pete was postponed on Friday, March 13 (and later seemingly canceled), reaching the finish line is “a major victory,” Dixon said. “It’s been such a bizarre year, a year I’ll definitely never forget, no one else will really. There will be standout moments you’ll reflect on like walking out of Gasoline Alley on race day and seeing nobody. A polarization of what’s normal.
“We have to be thankful for the situation we’re in.”
Dixon, who has led the standings after every race since opening the season with victories at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Road America, has a 32-point lead over Newgarden.
Of the nearly 19,000 championship scenarios, 99 percent have Dixon winning a sixth championship over Newgarden the defending and two-time series champion.
Here are the details and start times for the IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (all times are ET):
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
TV: 2:30 p.m., NBC (streaming), NBC Sports Gold and streaming on the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com); Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer for IndyCar on NBC with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.
COMMAND TO START ENGINES: 2:24 p.m.
GREEN FLAG: 2:31 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 100 laps (180 miles) on a 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course through downtown St. Petersburg.
TIRE ALLOTMENT: Seven sets primary, four sets alternate. One extra set is available to the rookie drivers entered.
PUSH TO PASS: 150 seconds of total time with a maximum single duration of 15 seconds. The push-to-pass is not available on the initial start or any restart unless it occurs in the final two laps or three minutes of a timed race.
FORECAST: According to Wunderground.com, it’s expected to be 84 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the green flag.
PRACTICE: 10:55 a.m. ET Saturday (live on NBC Sports Gold)
QUALIFYING: 3 p.m. ET Saturday (live on NBC Sports Gold; replay at 8 p.m. on NBCSN)
ENTRY LIST: Click here for the 24 drivers racing at St. Pete
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race day schedule
10:40-11:10 a.m.: IndyCar warmup, NBC Sports Gold
2:27 p.m.: Command to start engines
2:30 p.m.: Race broadcast begins on NBC (stream via NBCSports.com, NBC Sports App)
2:32 p.m.: Green flag