Thursday October 21st, 2021 3:43AM

Newgarden tightens championship race ahead of IndyCar finale

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Scott Dixon has controlled IndyCar’s title race since the start of this disrupted start-and-stop season. Reigning champion Josef Newgarden remained undeterred and slowed Dixon's runaway rout.

The American has whittled 85 points off of Dixon's lead and turned Sunday's season finale into a championship-deciding event.

Newgarden is now 32 points behind Dixon in a bid to win back-to-back titles and IndyCar found 19,872 scoring scenarios that could determine the champion when the checkered flag falls in downtown St. Petersburg.

“It was like 20,000 scenarios -- 1% of the scenarios means we can win the championship,” Newgarden said. “You’re saying there’s a chance and that’s all we need.”

Dixon seemed to be cruising toward a sixth title when the New Zealander opened the abbreviated season with three consecutive wins. Dixon is considered the best of his generation, a driver who rarely makes mistakes, avoids risky racing situation and can protect a points lead.

But then Dixon did err during a doubleheader at Mid-Ohio last month. He held a 96-point lead when that weekend opened, but a sub-par performance in the first race followed by a “rookie mistake” spin the next day gave Newgarden an opening.

Dixon's lead shrunk to 40 points, a slide that ended all talk of a coronation before the season finale.

“Had I not spun, I think it would have been a different scenario going into the last race,” Dixon said.

Newgarden, with three wins this season, is now looming in Dixon’s rearview mirror. But even with the astronomical amount of scoring possibilities, Newgarden will have to be nearly perfect to win a third title.

Dixon needs only to finish ninth or better to win the title, regardless if Newgarden sweeps every point available and wins from the pole.

He feels no pressure to complete a flawless weekend.

“I’m surprised we’re here. It almost makes it more disappointing looking at the year now that we’ve clawed back to this point,” Newgarden said. “We were in such a deficit, there was such a hill. We’ve reduced the hill, without a doubt, but it’s still a mountain to climb. It’s going to be a very hard task for us to try to win the championship.”

The IndyCar season was 48 hours away from its March 17 season-opening race when sports shut down during the pandemic. Newgarden was standing in the lobby of his hotel, a few hundred feet away from the street course where cars had already been unloaded, when word came that the race had been canceled.

The pandemic decimated the original 17-race schedule, which didn’t even begin until June. IndyCar lost stops in seven different cities and new series owner Roger Penske cobbled together a 14-race season full of doubleheaders and four races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

IndyCar put St. Pete back on the schedule as the finale, seven months after the teams sat idle all over the city awaiting a decision, and the new race date seemed tenuous until about a month ago. But state and city officials signed off on this weekend while also authorizing 20,000 spectators, making St. Pete the largest IndyCar crowd this season.

The 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary circuit is the only street course that wasn't canceled on the 2020 schedule and there is little time to adapt. Activities for the popular street festival began Friday — Firestone announced a new three-year deal as title sponsor of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with race dates announced through 2023 at a morning announcement — but actual track time was reduced to one Saturday practice and a qualifying session.

The title contenders both acknowledged the strain that will put on their teams.

“It’s so compact now on race weekends with one practice session, there’s so much to get through, sometimes you can’t get through,” Dixon said. “A lot of times you hope you roll off in a good situation.”

Newgarden, the defending St. Pete winner way back on March 10, 2019, has faith in his street course program even though it has yet to be used this season. He expects to follow the plan laid out seven months ago.

“I felt like our street course car took a massive step in 2019. I know I was very happy,” Newgarden said. “The good news is we had already done a ton of work. We were ready to go run St. Pete. Now we’re just going to try to apply that.”

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Auto Racing, Indy Car Racing
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Newgarden tightens championship race ahead of IndyCar finale
Scott Dixon has controlled IndyCar’s title race since the start of this disrupted start-and-stop season
2:21PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Stocks are mixed on Wall Street as more earnings come in
Stocks are trading mixed on Wall Street, following gains in European markets, as more U.S. companies report results for the summer earnings period
2:19PM ( 17 minutes ago )
Nigeria says 'many lives have been lost' in days of unrest
The Nigerian president's office says “many lives have been lost” in days of unrest as the government says peaceful protests over police abuses were hijacked by thugs
2:04PM ( 31 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Army-Navy game being moved to West Point
The 121st Army-Navy game will be played at West Point’s Michie Stadium instead of Philadelphia
12:33PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP source: Raiders latest COVID tests all negative
The Las Vegas Raiders’ latest batch of COVID-19 tests all came back negative and their game scheduled for Sunday against Tampa Bay is on for now
10:40AM ( 3 hours ago )
Rashford 'blown away' by grassroots pledges to feed kids
Manchester United player Marcus Rashford says he's “blown away” by the growing grassroots effort across England to feed poor students during the upcoming school break
7:38AM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Sports
McLaughlin makes long journey for overdue IndyCar debut
Scott McLaughlin at last will make his IndyCar debut in Sunday's season finale on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, Florida
4:04PM ( 22 hours ago )
Slam Dunk: Jordan picks 23 for car number of new NASCAR team
Michael Jordan has selected 23 as the car number for his new NASCAR team in 2021
2:15PM ( 1 day ago )
Jones lands iconic No. 43 with Richard Petty Motorsports
Richard Petty Motorsports will enter the next chapter of its storied history with driver Erik Jones
11:56AM ( 2 days ago )
AP Online Auto Racing
Dixon's struggles open door to Newgarden for IndyCar title
Scott Dixon opened this IndyCar season looking invincible with three straight wins as he built a 117-point lead
12:25PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Power claims another pole at Indy, Dixon's woes continue
Will Power has won the pole for the second race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's race this weekend with a fast lap of 1 minute, 8.9767 seconds
11:50AM ( 2 weeks ago )
Newgarden's stays in championship fight with 1st Indy win
Two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden closed the gap in the championship fight by pulling away from the rest of the field over the final 18 laps to win the first of two Harvest GP races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
6:45PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Indy Car Racing
Stocks are mixed on Wall Street as more earnings come in
Stocks are trading mixed on Wall Street, following gains in European markets, as more U.S. companies report results for the summer earnings period
2:19PM ( 17 minutes ago )
Census takers fall short of target goal in areas of US
From tribal lands in the Southwest to storm-battered Louisiana, the U.S. Census Bureau did not achieve its goal of reaching 99% of households during the 2020 census
2:01PM ( 35 minutes ago )
Washington state discovers first 'murder hornet' nest in US
Scientists in Washington state have discovered the first nest of so-called murder hornets in the United States and plan to wipe it out Saturday to protect native honeybees
1:57PM ( 39 minutes ago )
Fiasco over pope's cut civil union quote intensifies impact
The world premiere of a documentary on Pope Francis was supposed to have been a bright spot for a papacy locked down by pandemic and besieged by a corruption scandal
1:35PM ( 1 hour ago )
Senate GOP marches ahead on Barrett over Democrats' blockade
The Senate is gearing up for rare weekend session as Republicans race to put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court and cement a conservative majority before Election Day despite Democratic efforts to stall President Donald Trump’s nominee
1:24PM ( 1 hour ago )