Scott Dixon has the clearest path to the IndyCar Series championship on Sunday on the Streets of St. Petersburg, but it’s not mathematically impossible that Josef Newgarden could complete the greatest comeback ever.
IndyCar officials say there are 19,872 different scenarios between the two drivers, but the math is extremely simple for Dixon, who can claim a sixth championship by virtue of simply finishing ninth or better — something he has done in all but three races this season.
His worst finish of the season is a 12th at Road America and a pair of 10ths at Mid-Ohio, which is ironically the Kiwi’s best track.
So, barring a Dixon retirement, Newgarden’s path to victory generally includes a podium finish, and potentially a pole and most laps led for good measure.
Dixon also holds the tiebreakers over Newgarden. Should Newgarden win, he would simply match Dixon’s four on the season, with Dixon earning more second-place finishes, 2-1.
The championship deficit is 32 entering the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and drivers can earn a maximum of 54 points in each race — 50 for winning, plus a maximum of four from winning the pole (1), leading a lap (1) and leading the most laps (2.)
The second-place finisher earns 40 points, third place earns 35, fourth gains 32. Positions 5-10 decreases by 2 and positions 11-24 decreases by 1.
Thus, 19,872 different possible conclusions to a 14-race schedule that included six ovals, seven road courses and one street course. Only 1 percent of those outcomes result in a Newgarden championship.
“Just going there to try to win the race,” Newgarden said on a Wednesday media call. “That’s really all I can do. I love on the fact sheet, I saw this put out, it was like 20,000 scenarios, 1 percent of the scenarios means we can win the championship. You’re saying there’s a chance and that’s all we need.”
Throughout his entire career, dating back to CART, Dixon has a 7.6 average finish in all races, and 8.4 in 15 starts at St. Petersburg. In other words, Dixon likely closes out by simply avoiding trouble and taking the green flag.
At the same time, Dixon believes he probably should have closed out by now, pointing to driving off the track in race 1 at Mid-Ohio or even a stall during his final pit stop in the second race at Elkhart Lake. Just as misfortune struck there, it could theoretically happen again, and the third strike could eliminate Dixon … in one percent of the scenarios.
“We’ve had some mis-steps here and there, which I think most teams do during the year,” Dixon said. “I made a pretty big mistake at Mid-Ohio which I think, had I not spun, I think it would have been a different scenario going into the last race.
“I think these adversities, obviously the ups and downs throughout the season, is what makes IndyCar racing. You see these runaways, then you see them get caught. The situations always come down to the wire, which is typical and great to see I think for the sport and for the fans, for everybody involved.”
This is the 15th consecutive season that IndyCar’s championship will come down to the final race. It’s also the first time since 2014 that it will not be via the benefit of a double-points finale intended to spice up the final race.
That makes Newgarden’s comeback all the more remarkable, even if he can’t close out on a consecutive championship, and third overall.
Newgarden trailed Dixon by 117 points through eight races, more than two whole races behind the Chip Ganassi Racing veteran, who himself began the year with three consecutive victories.
The Team Penske youngster has given himself a shot through two wins, a runner-up and four top-four finishes over the past five races at Gateway, Mid-Ohio and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
Meanwhile, Dixon has posted finishes of 10th, 10th, ninth and eighth, top open the door for that one percent chance.
“I don’t feel the pressure so much on our end,” Newgarden said. “You probably normally don’t when you’re pursuing versus trying to hold someone off. I’m surprised we’re here, to be honest.
“It almost makes it more disappointing looking at the year now that we’ve clawed back to this point. 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.”
Conversely, all the pressure is on Dixon because his No. 9 team hasn’t been trending the right direction, even if some of that has been a conservative approach to not completely throw away the championship.
“I think you honestly just try to keep it as any other race weekend, which it is,” Dixon said. “They all pay the same points, apart from Indy this year. I think that’s the constant situation when you’re in any race, analyzing the situation that you’re in, who you’re passing.
This weekend may be a little more prominent. Cars that you maybe are having opportunity to pass or not, that you’re racing hard, depending even which team they’re from. That could alter things.
“I think that’s typical of any race weekend. Yes, there’s a little more on the line with being caught up in an accident, points and situations like that. But I think that is something you deal with every race weekend.”
Here is the short version of what Dixon has to do to win the championship:
Where would Josef Newgarden’s season rank all-time if the defending champion is able to complete the comeback on Sunday in St. Petersburg? Tell us in the comments section below.
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