Josef Newgarden on track

LEXINGTON, Ohio – With the possibility that Scott Dixon could all but clinch his sixth NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship this weekend at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio doubleheader, it was incumbent on his closest pursuers to prevent that.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, the defending series champion, tightened the points race with a second-place finish to Team Penske teammate Will Power in Saturday’s first race of the weekend doubleheader. Combine that with Dixon’s 10th place finish after qualifying a disappointing 17th, and the once-enormous points lead has shrunk.

Dixon entered the weekend with a 96-point lead over Newgarden and a 119-point lead over Arrow McLaren SP Racing’s Pato O’Ward. If Dixon could have left Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with a lead of 141 points or more, all he would have needed to clinch his sixth championship was to start the remaining three races.

If Dixon could have left the weekend with a lead of 162 points or more, he would have clinched the championship outright.

Newgarden cut Dixon’s lead to 76 points heading into Sunday’s second race of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (1 p.m. ET, NBC). There are four races left this season. Newgarden is confident that if he can continue the trend from the past two races, including a victory two weeks ago in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway, he can make it a championship race heading into the final race of the season, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Oct. 25.

“Absolutely,” Newgarden said. “We can't have a bad day tomorrow. I think what's been the case for us a lot this year is that we kind of take a step forward and then we take almost two steps backwards. That's really been the case most of the year, and we just end up slowly getting further and further away from Dixon.

“If we have another good day tomorrow, then it'll be a real positive weekend, and we just need to have that again at the Harvest Grand Prix (Oct. 2-3 at Indianapolis) and then we'll see where we're at in St. Pete. Maybe have a good challenge. We just can't have any mistakes.

“Look, it's a big mountain for us to climb right now, and we've certainly used up all our bad luck for the year, so we don't really have much to give away. We've got a good group and got to keep our heads down and try and make the most of it again tomorrow and try and close this year out as best as possible with Team Penske.”

Newgarden’s mindset is simple: Do the best he can to and don’t worry about where Dixon finishes. Add it all up at the end of the season, and that will determine who celebrates the championship. Dixon is aiming for his sixth championship, while Newgarden is trying to win his third after claiming titles for Team Penske in 2017 and 2019.

“I don't think we're really fixated on what they're doing,” Newgarden said. “We are trying to be the best that we can possibly be every event in every race. If we do that and put our best foot forward and we're fast, then hopefully we get the most points over these next four events and can win the championship.”