The 2020 IndyCar Series finale, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, marked the 15th year in a row that the championship battle came down to the final race, but Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon walked away champion.
“It definitely started [dominant], but it’s all the team,” Dixon said about his season. “I can’t thank everyone enough. Even the deficit going into Indy, they nailed it.”
Regarding his sixth championship—just one away from tying A.J. Foyt’s record, Dixon sounded ready for the challenge.
“Six is good. Seven sounds better.”
Scott Dixon entered the final race 32 points ahead of his closest competitor, Josef Newgarden, but the two drivers had qualified poorly—12th and eighth, respectively. Newgarden needed a much better finish with Dixon finishing 11th or lower in order to defend his championship.
Newgarden’s Penske teammate, Will Power, instead took pole position for the event, but an early downshift saw the No. 11 drop down the ranks after a strong start. Andretti Autosport teammates Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta, and James Hinchcliffe moved up to the top three, with the first two setting faster and faster laps.
As pit stop cycles started, Newgarden was able to make the most of his stop, pushing his way up in the pack. Dixon wasn’t so lucky—he was mired back in the middle of the pack duking it out with drivers who were also racing to scrape up as many points as possible.
The first caution came out on lap 36 after Power brushed the wall after losing control in the marbles and was forced to retire.
The restart came on lap 41. Rossi resumed the lead, but the racing didn’t last long. Santino Ferrucci crashed into the wall on the restart, bringing out the yellow flag once again. During the yellow, Conor Daly hit the wall and lost a tire.
Green flag racing resumed on lap 47 but once again didn’t take. Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin—in his first race—tagged Marco Andretti’s rear end. Rinus Veekay then drove up the back of him, with McLaughlin and Veekay taking each other out. There was, of course, another caution.
The next caution came out on lap 53, and while it was a messy one, it didn’t result in a crash. Dixon was mired in a battle with a handful of cars that weren’t afraid to bump and run, but he did manage to make up two positions.
Lap 70 brought more chaos. Alexander Rossi got into the marbles and crashed entirely on his own. Herta inherited the lead despite a spin a few laps earlier.
Yet another caution came out on lap 75. This time, Marco Andretti spun into the tire barrier, bringing out the yellow flag. While pacing, Hinchcliffe spun on his own, dipping into the grass. He tried to accelerate back onto track and tagged Jack Harvey, knocking his own front wing off. And while the yellow waved, a rainshower started.
Newgarden, who restarted in third, pushed his way up to first place by the end of the lap. Unfortunately, Oliver Askew crashed into the wall after being tagged by Takuma Sato, bringing out another caution and necessitating another restart.
To sum up exactly how many cautions there were, the pace car ran out of fuel during that caution period.
The green flag waved with 16 laps to go and saw Patricio O’Ward dive up two positions and begin challenging Newgarden for the lead. Herta went off track, handing Dixon third place.
The checkered flag flew on that order. Newgarden took his second win at St. Petersburg, and Dixon’s third place finish was championship worthy. The gap between them ended up being a mere 16 points.
O’Ward finished in second place while Sebastien Bourdais finished fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay took fifth.
Regarding the effort that went into maintaining his dominance this season, Dixon said, “It’s never just one thing or one person. For me, it’s about the team effort. We had a lot of changes in the off season.”
“It definitely got pretty close there. Credit to Josef and Team Penske. They drove the last part of the season.”
Despite losing out on the championship by just 16 points, Newgarden sounded pleased. “It’s definitely bittersweet… on one hand, I don’t really know what I’d do different this year. I don’t know what I’d ask my guys to do different. They were flawless all year… We just came up short.”
He, too, had a promise for 2021:
“We’ll reset. We’ll hit ‘em harder next year. I promise you we’ll be in the fight.”
Newgarden can rest easy knowing that he put on one hell of a fight this year. Team Penske started the year on the back foot while Dixon and his crew were absolutely dominant, never once relinquishing the championship lead.
The 2021 IndyCar season will kick off in St. Pete in March.