Solely a few NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers scored extra factors within the ultimate six races of the 2020 season than Workforce Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who made a dramatic however unsuccessful late bid to overhaul Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon for the sequence championship.
As for driver level totals as they at present stand: Nobody has scored any but in 2021, and nobody is aware of that higher than Newgarden, who’s within the prime of his profession at age 30 starting his tenth season within the sequence.
“I’ve tried to wipe final 12 months from my reminiscence as greatest I can,” he not too long ago mentioned.
Sure, everybody begins equally for the season-opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama introduced by AmFirst, set for Sunday, April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. However the previous two sequence champions – Dixon and Newgarden, respectively – have kicked off the season with race victories.
INDYCAR champions sometimes begin seasons sturdy. Prior to now 10 years, the driving force hoisting the Astor Problem Cup at 12 months’s finish has been on the rostrum on the first race six occasions, and 4 of them gained the race. The typical first-race end by these champions was 4.3, and that determine is inflated by Dixon ending fifteenth in 2015. Take away that and the typical is 3.1, which speaks to the importance of fast begins.
Newgarden is an efficient guess to get off to a powerful begin this season – and due to this fact contend for his third season championship in 5 years – as a result of the Barber race is first up. Newgarden has gained on the 17-turn, 2.38-mile everlasting highway course 3 times previously 5 journeys, and when he hasn’t gained he has completed within the high 4.
The second race of the season, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, is ready for Sunday, April 25, and previous performances counsel Newgarden shall be sturdy there, too. He has gained the previous two races on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile road circuit, and like Barber, it’s a observe the place Workforce Penske has excelled.
All of which bodes effectively for Newgarden.
“Clearly, I hoped we had been going to win our third (season) championship final 12 months,” he mentioned, alluding to profitable three of the ultimate six races to slice 101 factors from Dixon’s seemingly insurmountable sequence lead. “We might be engaged on the fourth (title).
“We’re going to have to return to sq. one and attempt to knock the third off this season.”
Whereas Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport was the most well liked driver within the late phases of 2020 – he led the sequence with 279 factors scored over the ultimate six races – Dixon is the annual goal. The veteran of 19 INDYCAR seasons shall be bidding to win record-tying seventh sequence championship, though profitable the title in consecutive seasons could be a private first.
Newgarden’s title bid may benefit from extra factors scored within the Indianapolis 500 introduced by Gainbridge. Whereas Newgarden completed solely three positions behind Dixon within the Aug. 23 race, that was a 31-point distinction in a double-points weekend. Newgarden misplaced the title by 16 factors.
In fact, profitable Indy isn’t about scoring factors, it’s about scoring a spot within the sport’s historical past. Newgarden is to date winless in “The Best Spectacle in Racing.”
“Indy was in all probability one in every of our worst tracks (final 12 months),” he mentioned of qualifying twelfth and ending fifth. “There’s little question, we didn’t carry out the best way we needed on the ‘500’ from a qualifying standpoint and a race standpoint.
“I believe that’s why we’ve closely discovered to get that proper within the offseason. We haven’t left anything behind.”
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, which begins Sunday, April 18 with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama introduced by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park, is slated for 17 races, together with the Indianapolis 500 introduced by Gainbridge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, Could 30. NBC could have the protection of these two races, and all races could be heard on the INDYCAR Radio Community.