Until proven otherwise, the old merchandise adage stands.
Old Guys Rule.
Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon have combined to win the past four NTT INDYCAR SERIES championships, and they have eight titles and 71 race wins between them in this series.
Although they both trail INDYCAR’s two younger stars – Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward – with two races to go in this season, they still lurk. Newgarden is 34 points out of the lead, Dixon is 49 in arrears.
Neither veteran is ready to concede heading to Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, the season’s penultimate race, at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The season ends Sept. 26 with the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, an often-wild street race where Newgarden and Dixon stood on the post-race podium in 2019. Dixon won the 2015 race there and was third in 2019 at Laguna Seca.
“Going into Laguna Seca 34 points out of the lead is definitely doable,” Newgarden said. “We are in the fight for the championship, and that’s all we can ask.”
Said Dixon: “Unless you’re out (of contention), you’re not out.”
With 27 car-and-driver combinations expected at the final two races, there are 98 points still to be gained on Palou, the series leader. That means technically there are five drivers still in contention for the championship, although Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda) would need a lot to go right for him given that he trails Palou, his teammate driving the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda, by 75 points.
Dixon also is dangerously close to being eliminated, but there is precedent for a big comeback. Last year at this stage, Newgarden trailed Dixon by 40 points. Although Dixon held off the driver of the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet by 16 points, it took finishing third in the finale in St. Petersburg to do so. Had Dixon finished 12th or lower, the Astor Challenge Cup would instead have Newgarden’s name etched in the 2020 slot.
Realistically, Palou is in the driver’s seat given his 25-point lead over O’Ward and his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. But both second-year INDYCAR drivers would be foolish to count out Newgarden and Dixon, especially after the latter salvaged what they could out of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.
Newgarden, 30, started the race from the 18th position and climbed to fifth, a drive similar to his 2019 race there when he rallied from 13th to finish fifth in what became a championship-winning season. His ride to this top five came due to a two-stop strategy that Newgarden executed as well as anyone.
Dixon, 41, was bumped from a chance to lead the field into Turn 1 by contact from behind from Felix Rosenqvist, his teammate of a year ago. Dixon joined Palou and others deep in the restart order after pitting on Lap 9, but he methodically worked his way back into contention to finish third, which is where he started.
Dixon’s comeback was reminiscent of the start of Portland’s 2018 race when he was engulfed in a Turn 3 dirt storm after Marco Andretti’s car flipped upside down as part of a multi-car incident on the opening lap. At race’s end, he was fifth and on his way to his fifth series championship.
Dixon called Sunday’s first-lap trouble “a weird start to the day” that ended up paying off for him and the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing.
“So, all in all, third is still pretty good,” he said. “Forty-nine points is a little ways out of the fight with two (races) to go, but (we’re) still mathematically in it, and we’ll give it all we have.”
Can Newgarden and Dixon complete this comeback? The next two weekends will tell the tale.
“We saw it at St. Louis how quickly (the point standings) can flip,” said Dixon, who along with Palou was collected in an oval-track incident not of their doing Aug. 21 at World Wide Technology Raceway. “We’ve seen how quickly it can flip (at Portland). … We’ve won championships on a tiebreaker. It’s all possible.”
Said Newgarden: “We have to hit on all cylinders these next two weeks. I’m confident in this team to be at a championship level.”
Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will air live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday. All practices and the NTT P1 Award qualifying session will be available on Peacock Premium, NBC Sports’ streaming service.