MOORESVILLE, N.C. — If the NTT IndyCar Series season is remembered for Scott Dixon’s fast start, it should also be known for Josef Newgarden’s strong finish.
Dixon won the first three races of a COVID-19 delayed season that began on June 8 at Texas Motor Speedway. The three wins to start the season gave the Chip Ganassi Racing driver a comfortable lead in standings and ultimately his sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship.
By leading the points from start to finish, Dixon joined Sam Hornish Jr. in 2001 and Sebastien Bourdais in 2006 as the only drivers to lead the points uninterrupted from start to finish during a season.
Newgarden gave Dixon a strong run for the championship before the two-time IndyCar Series champion at Team Penske feel short of snatching the championship during the final race of the season.
Both drivers won four races this season.
“I’m really proud of it,” Newgarden said of tying Dixon in the victory column. “I’m glad to get another win. I hate to harp on the past. I don’t want to be in the business of making excuses. I think we could have won six or seven races this year, to be honest with you.”
Dixon’s largest points lead was 117 points over Newgarden after the doubleheader event at World Wide Technology Raceway at the end of August. Newgarden finished second and eighth at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in September, first and fourth in the IndyCar Harvest GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October and won the season finale at St. Petersburg.
Despite Newgarden’s fast-and-furious finish to the season, Dixon won the title by 16 points.
It’s the missed opportunities that Newgarden believes cost him a championship.
“On one hand I’m really proud,” Newgarden recalled. “I think we’ve had phenomenal race cars. Team Chevy has given us pretty much everything you can ask for. Great engine performance, great partnerships as always. I’ve always had good races with Hitachi on the car. I don’t know why that is. They seem to be a good luck charm specifically for us this year.
“I’m disappointed. We could have won six or seven. I don’t know that I would change much about what we did this year,” he added. “I don’t know that I’d ask our team to do much different. We sit down and analyze everything; I don’t know that we missed steps very often. We got bit a couple times being in the wrong place, wrong time. As far as our decision making, I was really proud of pretty much what we did all year.”
Newgarden won the final race of the season, the Oct. 25 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, because he had to if he was going to close the gap on Dixon. But Dixon’s lead in the points was large enough, that he would have had to finish outside of the top 10 in order to lose the championship.
Dixon finished second at St. Pete.
“It’s very bittersweet the way this all wrapped up,” Newgarden lamented. “I was a little bit somber coming into the last weekend, because of the fact that we knew we didn’t control our own destiny. We knew going into the weekend that we didn’t have control over it. The only thing we could do was to take care of what we could control and try to win the race. If you win the race, it gives you the best opportunity to maybe win the championship.
“It’s tough. It’s tough to get to this point, to look at the year, some of the things we’ve come back from, certainly how close we got, then to fall short,” Newgarden continued. “At the end of the day, we did. We fell short. Just wasn’t good enough.
“I think all we can do is shake our competitor’s hand, tell Scott great job, tell his team great job, and come back next year and hit him harder. That’s all we can really focus on at this point. That’s what I’m going to focus on.”
It was important for Newgarden to go down swinging, even if he wasn’t going to win the championship.
“Hell, yeah,” he said. “I show up to win every race, like any of these guys. If you don’t have that mindset, I don’t know what you’re doing here. I’ll always preach that.
“Whether we win the championship or not, we want to have a great race day, we want to represent our partners and win the race. That’s what we did. At the end of the day, we won the race, but it wasn’t enough for the championship. That’s OK. You’re going to get that.
“We shook our competitor’s hand, told them good job and we will come back next year.”