ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – In a wild season finale that included everything from the leader crashing on his own to the pace car running out of fuel, Scott Dixon was able to keep his cool while seemingly everyone around him was losing theirs.
Josef Newgarden won Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but it wasn’t enough for the Team Penske driver to win his third championship.
Instead, it was Dixon claiming the sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship of his career with a third-place finish.
Because Will Power claimed the bonus points for the pole and Alexander Rossi got the bonus points for most laps led, Newgarden needed Dixon to finish lower than 11th in order to get his second-straight Indy car title.
Dixon entered the race with a 32-point lead over Newgarden. With Newgarden winning the race over second year-driver Pato O’Ward of Mexico and Dixon finishing third, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver won his sixth championship by 16 points over Newgarden.
“Congrats to Scott (Dixon) and his guys on his crew. It’s big time to win six championship so I’m sure they’re thrilled. They were great competitors. It’s bittersweet, though,” said Newgarden after his fourth win of the season. “On one hand, I really don’t know what I’d do different this year and I don’t know what I’d ask my guys to do different. They were flawless – fastest in the pits all year long and they were rewarded for it earlier this weekend by Firestone.
“I’m extremely proud to drive for my team – not just my car but all the Team Penske cars combined, all the engineers, all the mechanics. They’re an incredible crew that puts in a lot of work. We just came up short and that’s all it is,” Newgarden added. “We just weren’t able to get it done but we’ll reset and we’ll hit ‘em harder next year and I promise you we’ll be in the fight. Thank you to Hitachi and Team Chevy. You know Team Chevy was the engine to beat today and I think all year long, so a big credit to them.
“We were just a little short on points, but we’ll come back harder next year.”
It was a bizarre race that including many twists and turns. Will Power started on the pole but had early issues with downshifting that dropped him back in the field.
Power crashed out of the race coming out of turn two on lap 36.
Rossi dominated the race, leading the 61 of the first 70 laps before he crashed entering the back chicane. Rossi’s Honda got into the “marbles” (tire debris on the course) and crashed into the wall.
Dixon was able to keep Newgarden’s Chevrolet within his sights throughout the race. As long as he finished less than 10 or 11 spots behind Newgarden, Dixon’s championship was secure.
The Kiwi is just the second driver in IndyCar Series history with six or more titles. A.J. Foyt is the all-time championship leader in American open wheel racing, with seven.
That’s the next pursuit for Dixon as he looks toward the 2021 season.
“Six sounds good, but seven sounds better,” Dixon said.
Dixon’s strategy was simple. He essentially shadowed Newgarden, keeping within just a few positions instead of allowing his only competition in the championship to build an advantage.
Both drivers pitted just a lap or two apart, and as long as Dixon could avoid an issue on restarts from another driver, he would play it safe.
After Rossi crashed out of the race on lap 70 when he had been in front of the field for 61 laps, it got very interesting.
Colton Herta took the lead on lap 72 when he stayed on the track and the cars in front of him pitted. The green flag waved on lap 74 with Herta in front, but one lap later, Marco Andretti spun and crashed in turn five for another full-course caution.
That was big because Andretti was in competition with the No. 20 Chevrolet driven by Conor Daly and the No. 14 Chevrolet driven by Sebastien Bourdais for the 22nd and final Leader’s Circle position, worth in excess of $1 million for a full-time participant in 2021.
To add to Andretti Autosports’ woes, another one of its drivers, James Hinchcliffe, spun in turn 14 under caution and ran into Jack Harvey’s Honda re-entering the track.
Then, light rain began to fall while it was sunny everywhere else on course.
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