ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The topsy-turvy 2020 IndyCar season will come to end this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series will race one last time this year on the street course where they were supposed to begin the season back in March.
The coronavirus pandemic put a stop to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg literally days before it was supposed to happen in mid-March. The event was able to be rescheduled to the finale event of the 2020 season.
The race will focus entirely on the two drivers battling for the series championship, who are championship points leader Scott Dixon, and Josef Newgarden who is second in the standings.
“It really all comes down to this weekend,” said Newgarden. “We either win the championship or we don’t. It’s going to certainly be a tough battle with Scott Dixon this weekend because he has been so strong and consistent all year.”
Dixon won the first three races of the year and won a fourth race mid-season to jump out to as much as a 117 point lead in the points standings. But, Newgarden has been slowly chipping away at Dixon’s points lead since Dixon’s win in Race 1 of the Bommarito 500 in St. Louis back in late August.
“It was definitely a trying last few race weekends between Mid-Ohio and Indy,” Dixon said. “I’m still mad at myself for making that mistake at Mid-Ohio and letting those points get away. As always … title comes down to the last race.”
Dixon now leads Newgarden by 32 points. But even with that slim margin, Newgarden needs a lot to happen at St. Petersburg in order to overtake Dixon. The maximum number of points Newgarden can score in this one race is 54, which would bring his total to 524 points. That’s considering he wins the pole, leads the most laps, and wins the race.
All Dixon would have to do to counter that performance is finish in ninth or better in order to secure the title.
As for the rest of the field in the season finale race, one of the drivers will be Australian Supercars champion, Scott McLaughlin. The Team Penske driver will pilot the #3-car in his first-ever live IndyCar race.
“I’m super pumped to finally get a crack at my first INDYCAR race,” he said. “Feels like it’s been years since I was part of spring training, but due to COVID-19, we had to hold off. But hey, sometimes the best things are definitely worth the wait.”
McLaughlin tested an IndyCar before the start of the season and competed a few times in iRacing events during the pandemic shutdown. He was supposed to make his IndyCar debut earlier this season, but the pandemic put the kibosh to those plans.
Oliver Askew has been medically cleared to compete in the race after having to sit on the sidelines with concussion-like symptoms during the Harvest Grand Prix. It will be his final race with Arrow McLaren SP before he and the team mutually part ways.
Practice and qualifying will happen Saturday, Oct. 24. The green flag for the race is set to drop a little after 2:30 on Sunday, Oct. 25.