Victory Lap Celebration: Hinchcliffe Keeps it Light

Photo: Scott Dixon accepts the Astor Cup, his sixth.

The NTT Indycar Series Victory Lap celebration last evening, hosted by James Hinchcliffe, honored Series champion Scott Dixon and others for their achievements during the just completed 2020 season. Hoinchcliffe created an oscar style atnosphere, with an opening monologue and lists of nominees for some awards. His best line came early, talking about the milestones some drivers met this season.

“Scott Dixon’s 50th win, Will Power’s 60th pole, Colton Herta shaving for the first time.” Hinchcliffe quipped.

Several recipients joined the host at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for one on one segments while others, notably Power and Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, accepted their awards via Zoom.

Noticing the unmade bed in the background as he talked with Power about his P1 Pole award for garnering the most poles, Hinchcliffe noted,

“I see you’re faster on the track than you are at making a bed.”

Mark Miles appeared and discussed the challenges of 2020. He said the biggest challenge was keeping everyone’s morale up. Miles praised Roger Penske for always staying,”positive, determined, and focused.”

Jay Frye said the series learned to be flexible and will keep many things they learned going forward. Frye indicated the double header qualifying format for ovals will remain. he hopes to not have to alter the schedule next year.

“It seems like we ran 50 races this year,” he said.

Doug Boles revealed the logo for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500after a short video explaining what each element of it represented.

I find this logo a little cold. It doesn’t have the dynamic feeling of the ,past few logos. if they just had a silhouette of the Pagoda I think it would be better. Once again, they failed to ask for my input.

Alexander Rossi won the Fan Favorite Award, and Marco Andretti won an award for the best on track moment for winning the pole for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Rookie of the Year Rinus VeeKay talked about his first year in the series. VeeKay had a pole, a podium, five top tens , and three top 5s in leading the first year class.

The program was an entertaining hour and a few minutes. If you didn’t get a chance to watch last night, the show is available on YouTube.

It was a nice way to end what was a difficult season. the entire series deserves an award just for getting a season in.

Quick Thoughts (After a Deep Breath)-Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Photo: Joe Skibinski, Indycar

The Race

If Indycar wants to make St. Pete the season finale, I’m fine with that.The venue produced the finale drama that is missing from long road courses. Mistakes on a street course are costly.

I hope this race shows Indycar that double points are unnecessary for the finale.

What a great drive by Josef Newgarden, capped by an amazing pass for the lead. His win was a normal ending to a race which typified how the year 2020 has gone overall.

Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

It was great fun watching Newgarden and Scott Dixon both doing exactly what they needed to do to have a shot at winning the title. I hope we can see this championship rivalry for a few more years.

This race had everything- leaders crashing, yellows playing with strategy, some rain, the pace car running out of fuel, the title intrigue, and the Andretti Autosport drama on both ends of the grid.

 I have never seen a team that had a complete vise-grip on a weekend destruct as quickly as Andretti Autosport did today. The team had seemed to have figured out what was ailing them early in the season the last few races and were in line for a podium sweep at one point.

With Marco Andretti not qualifying for the Leaders’ Circle, you have to wonder if we see the 98 next year.

I hope Alexander Rossi uses all of this year’s frustrations to have a monster season in 2021. Today had to be particularly heartbreaking to be on the verge of salvaging something from this year and have it go away so fast.

I think James Hinchcliffe did enough this weekend to be the prime candidate for the 26 car next year.

A couple more laps of yellow and Alex Palou might have been able to get to the end of the race. I hope he will be back next year. I really like the way he drives.

Sebastien Bourdais appears to already be helping A. J. Foyt Racing. He was in the top 10 all weekend. After getting shuffled back on pit stops and with the aid of the cautions, he worked his way up to fourth at the end. Foyt placed both cars in the top 10 with Charlie Kimball finishing eighth.

Pato O’Ward didn’t win a race this year, but I will be shocked if he doesn’t win one in 2021. Arrow McLaren SP had a competitive season. Another nice drive today for his second runner-up finish of the year.

Congratulations to Rinus VeeKay, Indycar rookie of the Year. I’m glad that he will get another year at ECR to continue to grow as a driver.

I appreciate NBC going overtime with thier coverage to allow for an interview with Dixon.

The Title

Josef Newgarden (R) congratulates Scott Dixon on winning the Indycar series title. phot from NBC on Twitter

Scott Dixon has firmly placed himself on the same plane as Foyt and Mario Andretti. He now has six championships to go along with 50 career victories. I expect him to tie Foyt with seven titles and to end up with close to 60 race wins before he is done. I have been privileged to see both Foyt and Dixon race. While they drove in different eras, each had superior talent to their peers. I may not have appreciated Foyt at the time he drove for all his accomplishments, but his career has given me the perspective and context to appreciate Dixon while he is still active.

The last four series titles-

2017- Newgarden

2018-  Dixon

2019- Newgarden

2020- Dixon

We should have maybe three more years of this rivalry.

Dixon and Newgarden completed every lap this season. It is extremely rare that one driver accomplishes this feat in a season. It is obvious why they were the title contenders and that there was only a 16 point difference at the end.

I will be back on Tuesday with my season review, which may be divided into two parts. Thanks for follow along this weekend and all season. I appreciate you so much.

Race Day at St. Pete- The Title and Money on the Line

Good morning. Today’s schedule: (All Times Eastern)

10:40-11:10 Warm up NBC Gold

2:32 Green Flag NBC 2:30-4:30 100 laps

A reminder – cars will be on the pace lap when the television broadcast begins.

Scott Dixon just needs to maintain his starting position to win his sixth championship. The window of possibilities for Josef Newgarden shrunk a bit when he didn’t win the pole yesterday. His eighth startoing spot will make it hard for Newgarden to get the 53 maximum points today. Both drivers need to get through turn 1 of lap 1 cleanly.

The leaders’ Circle final spot is still up for grabs. Marco Andretti will start 23. The 98 is seven points out of the Circle at the moment and will need to move up to have a chance. Sebastien Bourdais’ seventh starting spot should help the 14 car keep the final spot. Conor Daly starts 14th. The 20 car is six points ahead of the 14 in 20th.

Simon Pagenaud was headed for his best qualifying effort of the year until his late spin cost him his two best laps. Still he starts 12th, which is an improvement. Pagenaud has not let where he starts affect his racing. he could be a factor today.

Rookie of the Year

When the green flag flies, Rinus VeeKay will earn Rookie of the Year honors. VeeKay, dribving for Ed Carpenter Racing, got off to an awful start this season at Texas. He crashed in qualifying and crashed early in the race, also taking out rookie Alex Palou. The rest of the season VeeKay showed tremendous improvement, capturing a pole and a podium spot at the Harvest Grand Prix.

Notes from the Ground

I received several messages yesterday from friends at the track. My friend Ed Murray said there wer fewer vendors, which was to be expected.. he said people were complying with mask wearing.

I later saw a photo from the stands where several fans were not wearing masks. I later heard from others that track staff was reminding people about the policy.

The track claims that nearly all tickets have sold.

I wonder how much of the grandstands will remain standing for the March race.

I applaud the efforts of Indycar, Green Savoree, and the city of St. Petersburg to put this race together for a second time this year.

I’ll be back with a quick warm up recap and then my race quick toughts this afternoon.

St.Pete Preview- The End of a Long and Winding Road

I really didn’t think this race would happen this year. Rescheduling a street race is a monumental task, and few cities would want to go through the inconvenience a second time in the same year. If the 2021 schedule holds, the NTT Indycar Series will return to St. Pete in a little more than four months. Kudos to everyone who made this event happen, but a special hat tip to the city of St. Petersburg, who had to bear the brunt of this uncertainty.

Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be the 15th edition of an Indycar race on the streets of the central Florida city. The first race was won by Paul Tracy in 2003. After a year’s absence, racing returned in 2005 and has continued uninterrupted since then.

This year’s race is scheduled for 100 laps, down from the 110 laps of the past few years, on the 1.8 mile, 14 turn course. 2020 is the first year St. Pete has hosted the finale. it is usually the season opener. In the span about four months, it will be the finale of one season and the opening race of the next year.

Although the title hunt is a two man race, and Scott Dixon is in a very good position to win his sixth title, there are several other things to look for this weekend. There is still a battle for the final Leaders’ Circle spot. Some drivers are hoping for a good showing to help secure a seat for 2021. Scott McLaughlin is making his Indycar debut, while a couple other drivers may not return to the series next season.

Championship on the Line

Scott Dixon heads into the weekend with a 32 point lead over Josef Newgarden. Dixon’s lead, which at one point had swelled to 117 points, has had what for him is a slump with four finishes in the bottom half of the top ten. Newgarden, meanwhile has steadily sliced the lead with two wins in the last four races.

Dixon needs to finish ninth or better to clinch the Astor Cup regardless of how Newgarden fares. Newgarden will need some help from Dixon to have a chance of winning his third title. I don’t see Dixon losing the crown.

Debuts and Auditions

Australian Supercars champ[ion Scott McLaughlin makes his long anticipated Indycar debut for Team Penske in car number 3. McLaughlin’s firast Indycar race had been set for the GMR Grand Prix in May. He participated in the Spring Training test in Austin and was third fastest. Mclaughlin will be a full time driver for Penske in 2021. It will be strange seeing someone besides Helio Castroneves in the number 3.

James Hinchcliffe, who is finishing the season for Andretti Autosport in car 26, which was vacated by Zach Veach, still has nothing set for next season. Coming off of 13th and 14th place finishes in the Harvest Grand Prixs, Hinchcliffe could use a good showing to insure he has a place on the grid next year.

Oliver Askew has been cleared to drive after undergoing concussion protocols. This is Askew’s last drive for Arrow McLaren SP. Askew will look to have a good weekend as he seeks a new ride for 2021. Felix rosenqvist will take Askew’s  seat at AMSP  next season.

Charlie Kimball is not confirmed for another year for A. J. Foyt’s number4 seat. He needs a strong showing to stay in contention for the ride.

The Battle for 22nd

Four cars will be jockeying to finish the season entrant points stand ing in 22nd, the final leader’s Circle spot. Entering St. Pete, Foyt’s number 14 car is in the final slot with 173 points. The 98 is 23rd with 166. The addition of Sebastien Bourdais to the 14 should help Foyt stay within the Circle. The 20 car of Ed Carpenter Racing is 21st with 179 points. One of these three cars will end up on the outside looking in for the $1 million plus payout from Indycar.

The race broadcast is on NBC beginning at 2:30 Eastern time Sunday. The green flag is at 2:32. Cars will be rolling when the broadcast begins and there will be no pre race show. The television window goes to 4:30, which may mean a very brief post race interview with the race winner and series champion.

My picks- Will Power to win the pole and the race. Scott Dixon will take his sixth  series championship.

Look for session reports tomorrow and a race wrap up Sunday evening.

 

Dixon, Newgarden Have the Same Weekend Plan- Keep it Simple

Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden have a similar approach to the NTT Indycar Series finale at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg- keep things simple and win the race. Dixon, who leads Newgarden by 32 points, needs to finish ninth or better Sunday to put the title out of Newgarden’s reach.

Dixon stated his objective, “Obviously the goal is to go for a win. That makes it a lot easier, then you don’t have to worry about any of the scenarios. …we try to typically keep it pretty simple. I would say that was not the case for the last few races, which got us into a bit of a tailspin. Josef and Team Penske, him and his teammates, have been doing a fantastic job.”

Dixon admits his spin at Mid Ohio put him in this situation and made the championship more difficult to wrap up early.

For Newgarden, models showing that he has just a 1% chance of winning the title is fine with him.

“I love on the fact sheet, I saw this put out, it was like 20,000 scenarios, 1% of the scenarios means we can win the championship. You’re saying there’s a chance and that’s all we need.”

Dixon is not sure about the effect the aeroscreen will have as the series races what will be its only street cdpourse race of the season.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s the first time for it. It’s done a great job first season, the conditions we’ve had in different situations. We didn’t get the full rain situation, which I think a lot of us expected throughout the season at some point. Maybe the depth perception maybe a little altered depending on the walls, where there’s placed. Honestly, this year it’s been very good in every situation. Touch wood that there’s no issue there.”

Newgarden is excited that fans will be able to attend the race this weekend.

“It’s been a tough year. Showing up to the racetrack in the conditions that we’ve seen this year, it’s hard. I think just from an event standpoint, you don’t have the energy of the fans and the crowd. That’s really what makes INDYCAR racing what it is. I think it makes sport what it is.”

Dixon added, “Just to touch on what Josef said about the atmosphere, I think a lot of us thrive on that. To be able to go back full circle and have fans again at St. Pete I think is going to be really cool.

But, yeah, just the effort that’s gone in to make a season and have a season where a lot of people haven’t had that opportunity. A lot of categories in motor racing, but other sports have really struggled. A lot of people that have gone into it, partners, quite involved. We’re very fortunate and very lucky. Glad we’re able to carry on.”

Both drivers expressed appreciation to Indycar and Green Savoree for working out a date to have this race.

Dixon and Newgarden plan to change their approach this weekend like any other race weekend. Newgarden said changing your approach can get you into trouble.

On the prospect of racing with Australian VA Supercar champion Scott McLaughlin, both drivers expressed excitement.Newgarden, who will be McLaughlin’s teammate, acknowledged this will be a challenge for him this weekend, but added,

“It’s going to be really fascinating to see how he handles this challenge. This is going to be an enormous task for Scott. He’s really, really good. We already know that. You could see that a mile away. I think we all admire his strengths around the Super Car side. I think he’s a great racer overall, doesn’t matter what car you put him in.”

Dixon is excited to have a fellow countryman in the series.

“Yeah, he’s damn good. I’m super excited for him. I met him maybe four or five years ago. We had to do an appearance at some event in Auckland city, do autograph sessions. Had to sit around for a long time and chat. This is before he had gone to Team Penske.

Yeah, he’s been crushing it obviously down there with his pole record, championship situation. Then for him to have this opportunity, I know he loves America, always wanted to come to America. I think it’s really cool to have another Kiwi in the field, which didn’t really even seem to be on the radar for quite a few years.”

Dixon is disappointed about the lack of ovals on the 2021 schedule and hopes more will return in the future.

“I’m bummed there’s only three ovals. I started in this category in 2003. It was 16 ovals in the series. We definitely need to work hard and trying to get back to that. I was extremely bummed about Iowa. It’s not a place I’ve won at, but it’s a track that is complete chaos, very difficult to set the car up. It’s exhausting physically. It provides some of our best racing we have all season. Hopefully that can be rectified down the road.”

Dixon and Newgarden think the race will come down to the tires, which are an unknown factor going in. They tested the street tire at Sebring, which doesn’t give a true indication of its wear. Dixon thinks three stops might be needed during the race.

2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship Infographic

Courtesy of Indycar- an interesting breakdown of the seasons of Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden.
For the 15th consecutive season, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship will be determined in the final race of the season. But for the first time, it will be determined on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Five-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing leads defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske by 32 points heading into the 100-lap race on Oct. 25 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).  Below are numbers to note entering the final race of the NTT INDYCAR season: Clck HERE to download the Championship Clinch Scenarios and click the graphic below to download the 2020 Championship – By The Numbers (PDF)

Dixon, Newgarden Pursue “Strange” Championship

Points leader Scott Dixon and his closest challenger Josef Newgarden agree that whoever wins the title will consider the 2020 championship to be a strange one.

Scott Dixon

“I think it would probably be the strangest just I think how the season’s gone, the schedule change,the ups and downs,” Dixon shared on a zoom conference with Indycar media this afternoon.

Josef Newgarden

“Yeah, I would agree with Scott. It would be the strangest. I don’t know how you’re going to forget this year,” Newgarden said.

In preparing for the Harvest Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, Dixon is approaching the doubleheader as they would any other race weekend and not focusing on clinching the title.

“I think, I don’t know, for us, we just have to treat it like any other race weekend and try to get maximum points. The obvious goal is to go out there and try to win, but unfortunately there’s 23, 24 others that have the same goal. Try to do better than we did at the last doubleheader at Mid-Ohio where I definitely made a very large mistake, that gave away some pretty easy points there.”

Newgarden trails Dixon by 72 points with three races left. he looks at the weekend the same way Dixon does- score more points and the rest will fall into place.

“I think I feel similar to how we felt all year. We sort of just approach it where we try and do the best job possible every weekend, control what we can control, try and score the most points, just like Scott.”

Both drivers are excited that fans will be allowed to attend. 10,00 fans per day are allowed into the track for the weekend.

Dixon said,

“I think it’s going to be fantastic to have up to 10,000 fans on each day. It’s definitely been a different dynamic I think for a lot of us this season,especially the Indianapolis 500 that ran without fans. We welcome the fans greatly. Hopefully the weather cooperates and we can have a fantastic weekend.”

Newgarden agreed,

“Excited to see fans back at a weekend. Everybody has been eager to get to a racetrack, at Indianapolis. Fun to see people around, socially distanced. Hopefully the weather is good. I haven’t even looked. Hopefully we have a good forecast for everybody that’s going to come out.”

Pracftice for the Harvest Grand Prix begins Thursday, with race 1 qualifying later that day. Race 1 is Friday at 3:30 pm Eastern on USA network. Race 2 is Saturday at 2:30 pm eastern on NBC.

The Last 50 Race Winner?

Photo: Scott Dixon after winning his 50th career race at World Wide Technology Raceway on Saturday. Chris Owens, Indycar

On Saturday Scott Dixon became just the third driver in Indycar history to win 50 races. The two in front of him, A. J. Foyt with 67 wins, and Mario Andretti with 52, have stood as the only to achieve the 50 race race mark since 1988, when Andretti won his 50th race at Phoenix. Foyt’s 50th came in 1975 at Trenton.

A. J. Foyt

There are similarities between the three drivers. Foyt and Dixon both hit the win mark at age 40. Andretti was 44, but spent 1975-1981 full time in Formula 1, although he still drove in the Indianapolis 500. An argument could be made that had Andretti drove Indycar full time during those years, he would have won 50 races much earlier. Could he have have surpassed Foyt for first place all time? That’s a great topic for bench racing.

Mario Andretti

I’m not sure how to decide which of the three drivers’ feat is the most remarkable. Foyt raced in an era where careers were usually shortened by injuries or death. Andretti also raced during the same era as Foyt. Dixon has raced most of his career in spec cars where the equipment is essentially equal in theory.

Will we see another driver win as many as 50 races? Only one other driver, Michael Andretti has won more than 40 times. I think the odds are quite long. The next active driver on the win list is Will Power with 37 wins, tied for sixth on the career list with Sebastien Bourdais. Power has a chance to reach the 40 win mark, but his remaining  time in Indycar looks limited.  Ryan Hunter-Reay has 18 wins, 26th all time.  Simon Pagenaud now has won 15 times, which ties him for 31st with Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Only 45 drivers since 1909 have won 10 or more times.

If another driver ends up with 50 or more career win, he would be one of the newer drivers in the series. Any driver with potential has a lot to battle in his quest for the magic number. He needs to be on a top team for many years, like Dixon has been. There are  concerns of sponsors, injuries, mechanical failures, and accidents.

An Indycar career can last a long time. The aeroscreen may have added some years to a driver’s time on the track. The competitiveness of the series makes it more difficult to win a race. While this year may be a bit of an aberration, we have had there have been five different winners in nine races. Indycar has been averaging about seven different winners a season the past few years.

If I had to guess which drivers  may someday reach 50 victories, Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward would be the first two which come to mind. Herta won twice last year. O’Ward has yet to win a race, but I have a feeling that once he gets his first checkered flag, he will begin winning with regularity.

I have been fortunate to see each of the three 50 race winners drive and win races. Today’s fans need to appreciate Scott Dixon as he competes in his last few years  in Indycar. I admired the skills of Foyt and Andretti when they raced. Seeing them has helped me understand that Dixon is their equal.

Indycar Oval Season- Veterans Rule, Passing at a Premium

The NTT Indycar Series completed the oval portion of their abbreviated schedule Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway. It was quite a feat to get in six races of any kind in a season that was delayed until June. Some positive things came from the abbreviated, revised schedule. The double header qualifying format, the competitiveness of Carlin Racing with Conor Daly driving, and that fans were allowed to attend Iowa and Gateway. Sunday’s attendance at gateway is thought to be around 7,500, which would make it the largest oval crowd of the year.

Qualifying Format for Double Headers

The double header qualifying format in which the first lap set the Race 1 grid and the second lap set the Race 2 grid was fascinating and did scramble the lineup a bit for the second race. I was surprised no one swept both poles at an event. Four different drivers won poles at the doubleheaders- Conor Daly, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Takuma Sato.

If there are more double headers next season, I hope this format stays. This year it was put in to save time and expense on an improvised program, but it was fun to watch.

Oval Points

It seemed as if Scott Dixon dominated the ovals, but Newgarden was not far behind. Dixon’s 95 point margin is largely based on the road course races. Dixon accumulated 256 points on the ovals while Newgarden has 251. Takuma Sato and Pato O’Ward each have 205 points on the ovals. Sato’s win at the Indianapolis 500 made up for his missing the race at Texas.

Passing

The aeroscreen may be a factor. Less tire degradation might also be a culprit. It seems as if passing is more difficult this year than last year. This past weekend passing was non existent except for a few bold moves, especially Sunday.

The aero package works  very well on road courses. Adjustments need to be made for the oval package. I hope that after a season with the new aeroscreen, the series and teams can figure something out.

Yellows

 The seventeen caution periods this season on ovals is I think, about average. Seven were in the Indianapolis 500. While the timing of the yellows can’t be predicted, several drivers have been caught out by the yellow flags just after their pit stops.

 Conor Daly had just pitted in Iowa race 2 when the yellow flew for Ryan Hunter-Reay’s accident. The rain yellow at Gateway this past Saturday pushed Josef Newgarden back in the field.

Two races have ended under yellow because of accidents with four laps to go. I don’t have a problem with races finishing under yellow. A race has a scheduled distance and that’s when it should end. Baseball doesn’t add an inning when a game ends on a strikeout instead of a home run.

Carlin and Daly

Carlin Racing and Conor Daly have been a great match. Daly has made Carlin competitive on the ovals. His average finish with Carlin is 8.8 with four top tens and a pole. The one top ten he didn’t get was because he was caught by a yellow in Iowa Race 2.

I hope Daly continues his arrangement with Carlin next season.

Rookies

The rookies have looked great on the road courses, but have struggled some on the ovals. Rinus VeeKay, who had a disastrous start at Texas,  does appear to be improving. He had a 6th and a 4th this past weekend. Oliver Askew Had a 3rd and a 6th at Iowa, but hasn’t shown consistency at the other ovals. Alex Palou has a best oval finish of 11th.

VeeKay leads the rookie standings overal with 181 points, while Askew has the most oval points, 126.

I’m sad to see the oval portion end. there are five road or street courses left on the schedule. We are still waiting for final word about Mid Ohio and whether fans will be allowed. There is no word yet about fans viewing the Harvest classic races at IMS. St. Pete I still think is iffy to run and definitely sketchy for fans.