Josef Newgarden has set up a last race showdown for the 2020 IndyCar title after the Penske driver trimmed more points out of Scott Dixon’s once mammoth lead.
Dixon could only finish eighth in today’s second leg of the Harvest Grand Prix from Indianapolis Motor Speedway while Newgarden charged from outside the top-10 to a fourth-placed result.
Penske also secured top honours with Australian racer Will Power securing his 39th career win, leading from pole and resisting a late onslaught of pressure from Colton Herta.
The margin between Dixon and Newgarden now rests at just 32 with 54 points up for grabs at the season finale at St. Petersburg in three weeks’ time.
From pole, Power established a comfortable five-second margin just before making his first switch to the durable, harder tyres.
Newgarden initially fell back but on Lap 3 took 10th from Ryan Hunter-Reay who had slumped from sixth at the start.
After a dismal qualifying session which left him 18th on the grid, Dixon opted to start on the softer tyre. By Lap 7 the Kiwi was 11th and just two spots behind Newgarden.
Power’s early stop was hindered by the lapped car of Marco Andretti and the Penske driver had his lead quelled to just under a second with Alexander Rossi and Herta in hot pursuit.
Newgarden had also worked himself onto the fringe of the top-five after his stop as Dixon swapped for his primary reds for Firestone blacks.
With fuel saving the name of the game, Power ambled across his middle stint holding a steady advantage over Rossi. Dixon meanwhile was able to push slightly harder as Chip Ganassi teammate Felix Rosenqvist protected his rear from attack.
Rossi then reeled in Power but came unglued when he bowled a wide at Turn 1 navigating lapped traffic. It gave Power the breathing room he needed to eke out a six-second lead before his final stop.
Rosenqvist then made contact with Charlie Kimball at Turn 7, leaving Dixon vulnerable from assault as he followed Newgarden in on Lap 26. He re-joined in ninth after a slow stop for Helio Castroneves, just behind Newgarden.
The title rivals then traded fastest laps as they scythed through the pack, Newgarden carrying the momentum from his emphatic victory yesterday. He passed Pato O’Ward after his last stop for fourth and the two diced for position over the final few laps, Newgarden coming out trumps by just five-tenths.
Unfortunately, Dixon’s charge didn’t come to much as he once again paid the price for a frustrating qualifying performance. The Kiwi followed Graham Rahal across the line in eighth.
Upfront, Rossi had opted for primaries for the final stint, whereas Power had gone for older he was trying to nurse his tyres and fuel.
That allowed Rossi to close up to within 1.6sec with Herta close on his tail.
Herta then risked a dive on his teammate into Turn 1 to snatch away second before setting his sights on Power.
Herta got Power’s lead down to half a second five laps from home as Power desparetly searched in vain for a way past Castroneves who was a lap down. When Castroneves finally let both past, Herta then ran wide onto the dirty side of the road which left Power off the hook.
Rossi eased home for his fourth consecutive podium in a year where a title challenge didn’t emerge, and he is yet to win a race for the first time in his series career.
Dixon and Newgarden are now the only two drivers within shot of the championship for the final race on the streets of St. Pete, a circuit Dixon has surprisingly never won at before.
There he will be joined by fellow Kiwi and incumbent Supercars Champion Scott Mclaughlin who will make his debut with team Penske.