Season Review: 2020 NTT IndyCar Series – Dixon Makes History with Title Number Six
2020 has been a historic year for the entire world. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the world, and made signifiant alterations to the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series. Just as the season was set to get under way in March at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the entire United States was thrust into lockdown, and a three month hiatus ensued before the season began.
Iconic circuits like the Streets of Long Beach, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Belle Isle, and more were all axed from the schedule, yet promoters and IndyCar together were able to put together a fourteen race championship, with the help of a few doubleheader events.
Yet amidst the chaos, Scott Dixon remained the dominant constant, winning his sixth series championship for Chip Ganassi Racing. The New Zealander became the first driver to win six championships since the legendary A.J. Foyt, but it didn’t come easy. After a dominant start to the season, that impeccable form fell away, allowing defending champion Josef Newgarden to close in, and take things down to the final race.
One of the most exciting parts of this season was undoubtedly the rookie class. Of these ambitious young guns, Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing was the man to come out on top. The Dutch youngster beat out Alex Palou, Oliver Askew and Dalton Kellet to the title, grabbing his first career pole and podium in the process.
In the manufacturer’s championship, Honda would again beat out Chevrolet, making it three straight consecutive titles for the Japanese manufacturer, and could possibly be on a run akin to that of Chevrolet from 2012 to 2017.
With the championship wrapped up, and teams already looking to the 2021 season come March, let’s recap the wild 2020 season that would see the “Iceman” of IndyCar make history.
Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing Dominate Early Season
When the season finally got underway in June, it would be Texas Motor Speedway that host the first race of the season instead of St. Petersburg with the Genesys 300. Much like Newgarden in 2019, Scott Dixon’s early run of form is what would cement an insurmountable lead on his way to the championship.
Dixon would just miss out on pole to Josef Newgarden, and after leading early on would fall behind due to a slow pit stop. Josef Newgarden and reigning rookie of the year Felix Rosenqvist would battle for the lead until Dixon stormed back, passing both of them on the outside in separate moves to reclaim the lead. Dixon would overcut Rosenqvist on the final pit stop, and just as the young Swede was charging to try and take his maiden victory, he would lose grip and smash the outside wall in turn two trying to pass lap traffic.
Without enough time remaining to get the cars into proper order, many lapped cars would sit between leader Dixon and Simon Pagenaud who now sat in second. Dixon would win comfortably as he took to the top of the points standings, a spot he wouldn’t relinquish. Pagenaud would come home second and Newgarden would round out the podium.
The one Team Penske driver not on that first podium, Will Power, would take the pole for the next race at the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Power would lead the early phase of the race, but on lap thirty five rookie Oliver Askew would bring out the caution after wrecking in the final corner.
This caution couldn’t have been timed worse, as drivers were right in the middle of their green flag pit stops. Power, Newgarden, and Jack Harvey, who were leading the early stages of this race, had not pit and restarted outside the top ten. Scott Dixon, who was on a three stop strategy, had already made two of his pit stops and was on fresher tyres compared to the likes of Graham Rahal and Spencer Pigot who led the field to green on a two stop strategy.
Dixon would easily grab the lead and not let go, cruising to a win with a gap of over twenty seconds to Graham Rahal, who perfectly executed the two stop. This race-changing yellow flag also benefited Simon Pagenaud, who clawed back from starting twentieth to grab the final spot on the podium. Rinus VeeKay would also make his first case for rookie of the year, finishing fifth in his second ever IndyCar race.
Races three and four would take place at Road America for the REV Group Grand Prix, and the first doubleheader event of the season. Josef Newgarden would claim his second pole position of the year in race one, and after leading early, he would stall the car in pit lane twice during his second pit stop. This would allow Scott Dixon, who pit a few laps earlier, to take the lead.
Not long after those pit stops Jack Harvey, who started on the front row yet again for Meyer Shank Racing, would bring out the first caution at Road America in three years. After a few more crazy cautions, Dixon would finally gap second place Will Power and win three straight races. Also throwing his name into the hat for rookie of the year, Alex Palou of Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh, would take his first career podium finishing third.
The very next day would be race two of the double header, and saw Arrow McLaren SP‘s Patricio “Pato” O’Ward take the pole position, beating out Colton Herta to the pole. With Newgarden not qualifying well and Dixon having issues on pit road, this race was all about the young guns. After leading most of the race, O’Ward would pit for a set of lightly used alternate tyres, and with eight laps to go Felix Rosenqvist would begin to hunt him down on fresh primary tyres.
As the duo caught lap traffic the gap would get even closer, and with two laps left Rosenqvist would go side-by-side with O’Ward in turn five, and make the move stick in turn six as O’Wards tyres fell off. This would be the Swede’s maiden win after crashing out at Texas, poor pace at IMS, and a spark plug issue the day before, and also a precursor of what was to come, as the two are now teammates at AMSP for 2021.
Alexander Rossi would finish third, getting his maiden podium of the season after a dismal start to the year, much like Rosenqvist.
Team Penske, Newgarden, Close Gap to Dixon on the Ovals
One week after Road America the series headed to Iowa Speedway for another doubleheader on the 1.4 km oval for the Iowa IndyCar 250s. Conor Daly took the pole for race one in a dazzling effort for the Carlin team, until Daly found himself sandwiched between two the two Penske machines of Josef Newgarden and Will Power.
Late in the race Will Power would have a loose wheel come off and bring out a caution during pit stops, trapping Newgarden a lap down and allowing many in the top ten to pit without losing a lap. One of those drivers was Simon Pagenaud, who started in last place and after pitting incredibly early to go off-strategy, found himself in with a shot at the lead of the race.
As the field was set to restart, IndyCar aborted the start, but that message did not reach the whole field, leading to a scary crash between Rinus VeeKay and Colton Herta sent Herta airborne. Both drivers would walk away fine, with the newly-implemented aeroscreen saving VeeKay from having Herta’s car enter his cockpit.
After the ensuing restart, Pagenaud would take the lead from Pato O’Ward and would claim the first win of the season for a driver not racing for Chip Ganassi. Scott Dixon would also make a charge through the field of his own to finish second after starting seventeenth, and Oliver Askew would claim his first career podium with a third place finish.
For the second race of the doubleheader, Josef Newgarden would take the pole and lead over two hundred laps en route to his first win of the season. He would have to fend of the charging Pato O’Ward, but the young Mexican would have issues on pit road that cost him a shot at his first win. Recovering from the lost wheel the day before, Will Power would come home second, and Graham Rahal would finish third after benefiting from being able to pit under caution earlier in the race. Scott Dixon would swap places with Newgarden by finishing fifth in race two.
After a delay to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, the 104th Indianapolis 500 was next on the calendar. Marco Andretti dominated the early sessions of the month and took pole position, the first Andretti to do so in thirty three years. Before reaching turn one, Scott Dixon would take the lead and dominate most of the race amidst cautions and pit stops.
Chasing him down would be Alexander Rossi, however Rossi’s poor luck in the 2020 season continued as he was sent to the rear of the field for an unsafe release after making contact with Takuma Sato exiting pit road. His luck would continue to sour as he wrecked on lap 144 trying to charge his way back through the field.
Sato would snatch the lead from Dixon on the last pit stop and wouldn’t give it up to win his second Indy 500. After a scary crash by Spencer Pigot on the front stretch with five laps to go, the race would end under caution. Following Sato and Dixon would be Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Graham Rahal, with Santino Ferrucci finishing fourth for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan, and Josef Newgarden finishing fifth.
Dixon would get his revenge on Sato, with a win at the first race of the Bommarito Automotive 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway. Will Power would take his second pole of the year and lead the opening stint before Pato O’Ward would overtake him during the first cycle of pit stops.
O’Ward would dominate the middle stint of the race before Dixon would take the lead after the last round of pit stops, jumping O’Ward in pit lane. Sato, the last driver to make their pit stop, would make a furious charge to hunt down Dixon with the freshest rubber on track. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t have enough laps to do so, and Dixon would win his fourth race of the season.
Newgarden would finish in twelfth after getting trapped a lap down earlier in the race due to a poorly-timed caution. At this point Dixon won half of the season’s races, and held a triple-digit lead in the points.
The 29-year-old Newgarden would immediately fire back by winning race two of the doubleheader at WWTR. Takuma Sato would lead the field to green, leading the first stint and staying out late, but lost time behind lap traffic. That would hand the lead to Pato O’Ward who dominated another stint much like he did the day before. Much like Sato, he would be held up behind lap traffic and lose the lead during the pit cycle to Will Power.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Power would get caught behind lap traffic coming in for his final stop, and would hand the lead to Newgarden, who went side-by-side with O’Ward coming out of the pits, in the move that would win him the race. Newgarden’s second win of the year allowed him to claw back within one hundred points of Scott Dixon, a theme that would follow the two contenders to the very end of the season.
Newgarden’s Final Charge, Dixon’s Grip on the Title Loosens
Races ten and eleven of the season would take place at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Including these races, Newgarden had five races to close a ninety-six point gap to Dixon. Luckily for him, he would hit stride as Dixon’s form began to wane.
At race one of the the newly-rescheduled Mid-Ohio doubleheader, Will Power would dominate the entire race to take his third pole of the season to his first win at the track. After a dismal qualifying effort saw Scott Dixon start the race in seventeenth, he would claw his way up to thirteenth by lap three, and finish in tenth. Crucially, Josef Newgarden had a much better qualifying effort and turned a third place starting position into second by the end, taking a huge chunk out of Scott Dixon’s lead, with the gap now at 76 points with four races to go. Alexander Rossi would come home third, rounding out the podium.
Like Power the day before, Colton Herta would dominate race two in the same fashion the next day. The action began right at the drop of the green, as Santino Ferrucci made contact with teammate Alex Palou, who would collect Felix Rosenqvist in the incident. Scott Dixon would find himself in second before all of this unfolded, but couldn’t quite catch Herta.
After a restart on lap 20 for a beached Dalton Kellett, Dixon would find himself under fire from the Andretti Autosport machines of Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Rossi would be able to get around Dixon for second on lap twenty-one, before Dixon made a crucial error in the first turn the next lap. Dixon went wide in the turn, clipping the curbs that were still wet and muddy from rain earlier in the day, putting him dead last. The rest of his race would be a charge to make positions back up, clinching tenth place on the last lap. Luckily for him, Josef Newgareden didn’t fare much better, only finishing two spots ahead in eighth. On a day where he could have lost so many more points, the gap only closed by four points down to seventy-two.
Herta would cruise to a win and an all Andretti Podium, filled out by Rossi and Hunter-Reay.
With three races to go, IndyCar returned to IMS’ road course for the Harvest IndyCar GP doubleheader. Rinus VeeKay continued his impressive rookie run by grabbing his first career IndyCar pole for race one, and would lead the field to green alongside Josef Newgarden on the front row. Those two would battle Colton Herta for the race win the entire race, with Herta stealing the lead after the first stint of pit stops, and Newgarden returning the favor without looking back on the final round of pit stops, winning his second race of the year.
Scott Dixon would start twelfth and claw his way up as high as sixth, but with three laps to go he would run off the track as his tyres were gone, and finish ninth. This off-road excursion would cost Dixon a large chunk of his lead, with the gap now at forty points.
Alexander Rossi would keep up his good run of form with his third straight podium, and polesitter VeeKay beat out Herta for third.
Race two would end up much like race one of the Honda Indy 200, as Will Power took his fourth pole of the year to his second win of the year, putting on another dominant display. For title contenders Newgarden and Dixon, however, they would find themselves quite close to one another throughout the race. Despite starting ninth, Newgarden found himself down in eleventh, with Dixon right behind him as they cleared the chaos of turn one.
Newgarden began to make a charge back up the field, reaching as high as fifth while Dixon was still stuck in twelfth. He would soon find his way into the top ten, and cycle out eighth after the final round of pit stops. Newgarden would jump Pato O’Ward with an undercut to finish fourth. Joining Power on the podium would be Colton Herta in third, and Alexander Rossi claiming his fourth straight podium finish in third.
Going into the final race, Dixon’s near triple-digit lead was eroded down to thirty-two points, with a winner take all showdown awaiting in the Streets of St. Petersburg.
Normally the season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg would host the season finale instead. Will Power would take pole number five on the season, with title rivals Newgarden and Dixon starting ninth and eleventh respectively. Newgarden would need to win if he wanted any shot at the title, needing Dixon to finish outside of the top ten, taking into consideration all of the points on offer.
Power would lead the field to green, but concede the spot on lap five after shifting issues to Alexander Rossi. Rossi would lead the field through a majority of the race as well as three cautions. Just as it seemed like his luck was turning, he would be the one to bring out the fourth caution, crashing from the lead on the exit of turn three.
Colton Herta would lead the field to green and through another caution in Rossi’s stead, with Newgarden and Dixon having fought into the top five. At the restart, Newgarden put it all on the line, making an incredible move underneath Herta and Alex Palou to take the lead of the race! Dixon wouldn’t let his rival get away, making moves of his own to get to third.
After the sixth caution of the day, which began to be too much for even the pace car that ran out of fuel, Newgarden would go on to win, beating Pato O’Ward to the checkered flag. It wouldn’t be enough, as Dixon would come home third to win his sixth championship, and managing to stop the slide just in time to join historic company with his sixth title.
Newgarden would finish second in the points, only sixteen points shy of winning back to back championships. No need to fret, however, Josef is still one of the best drivers in the series, and will absolutely be back in the hunt next year,
Colton Herta would come home third in points, after a great late season scrap with Pato O’Ward who would finish fourth only five points between them. Unlike Herta, O’Ward would be unable to grab a win, after coming so close on multiple occasions. Regardless, the two former Indy Lights teammates have proven that they are the leaders of a very young and very talented generation that is about to take over IndyCar.
After a poor stretch of form and luck early on, Will Power put together a brilliant second half to the season, finishing fifth in points. His five poles pushed him to sixty-one in his career, only six off of Mario Andretti‘s all-time record of sixty-seven. His two wins this season also see him tied now with Al Unser for fifth all-time in career wins, at thirty-nine. Clearly, Power proved that despite adversity, he’s still as good as ever on his day.
That will do it for yet another wild year of NTT IndyCar Series racing. Will Scott Dixon be able to repeat this feat next year and catch up to A.J. Foyt? Or will it be the year the young guns take the series by force? The Checkered Flag will have you covered for the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season with continued news and race reports for every race of the year!
The 2021 season gets underway Sunday, 07 March with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.