ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Oct. 25, 2020) – Josef Newgarden went down swinging.
Newgarden won a wild, unpredictable NTT INDYCAR SERIES season finale, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet amid a head-to-head showdown with Scott Dixon for the series championship.
Still, the winning performance wasn’t enough for Newgarden. Dixon finished third to seal his sixth INDYCAR championship by just 16 points over defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden after leading the season wire-to-wire in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Dixon’s stellar 2020 season also helped Honda win the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Manufacturers’ Championship.
“It’s never just one thing or one person,” Dixon said. “For me, it’s about the team effort. We had a lot of changes in the offseason. Credit to Josef (Newgarden) and Team Penske. They drove the last part of the season flawlessly and a lot points, so that was pretty awesome to race them again. And we know next year is going to be the same, but huge thanks again to everyone on the team.”
Dixon, who won four times this season, including the first three races of the season, now sits just one title behind the all-time INDYCAR record of seven championships, set by the legendary A.J. Foyt. The championship is the 13th for Chip Ganassi Racing and its second in the last three years. Dixon, 40, who last won the title in 2018, became the first INDYCAR champion age 40 or older since Nigel Mansell in 1993.
“Well, six is good. Seven is better,” Dixon said. “That’s going to be the goal. But it’s tough. As you can see from the competition, even if you mess up just a little bit in qualifying, we had some problems this weekend and just couldn’t piece it together. Credit again to the team and just being able to pull ourselves out of that hole and stay consistent and just have a smooth race, and that’s what we did.”
Newgarden made an impressive charge from eighth on the starting grid to the lead for the first time on a Lap 80 restart in the 100-lap race as he did all he could to win back-to-back titles. Colton Herta led the field to green in the No. 88 Capstone Turbine #ShiftToGreen Honda on the restart, but he came under pressure from Alex Palou in St. Pete’s tricky Turn 1.
Palou briefly took the lead from Herta in the No. 55 Guaranteed Rate Honda before Newgarden made a daring move for the lead heading toward Turn 2, knowing that he had to do everything in his power to try to take the title from Dixon.
Newgarden withstood one more restart and immense pressure from Pato O’Ward in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet over the final 20 laps on his way to securing his fourth win of the season. O’Ward ended up second, 4.1409 seconds behind Newgarden.
With the win, Newgarden continued a trend of back-to-back winners on the streets of St. Petersburg. Since 2015, the race has been won back-to-back by three drivers. Juan Pablo Montoya won the race in 2015-16, Sebastien Bourdais won in 2017-18 and Newgarden won the race in 2019-20.
“No doubt, we didn’t need a full green race, so that played into our favor today,” Newgarden said of the hectic race that included six cautions. “We had the flow of the race we needed, but it wasn’t anything they gave us. We had a solid day. We needed to be fairly quick. I think we had a fairly quick car, and we just had to make some moves. That’s all we could do to try and get to the front. We outlasted everybody and did what we needed to do. We knew coming into this that fate wasn’t in our own hands. We weren’t going to be able to decide things. So, we just did what we could and hoped for the best.
“It’s definitely bittersweet. First off, congratulations to Scott and all his guys, his crew. It’s big time to win six championships. I’m sure they’re thrilled. They’re a great competitor. On one hand, I don’t really know what I could do different this year. I don’t know what I could ask my guys to do different. They were flawless. Fastest in the pits all year long. I’m extremely proud to drive for my team.”
O’Ward’s second-place finish punctuated a strong first full season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. Mexican driver O’Ward ended up fourth in the championship standings behind Dixon, Newgarden and Herta.
Bourdais crossed the line fourth in the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet in just his third race with the team before making a full-season effort in the No. 14 in 2021, and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top five in the No. 28 DHL Honda.
The dramatic conclusion to the season marked the 15th consecutive season that the INDYCAR championship battle came down to the final race.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Rinus VeeKay easily won the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year award. VeeKay, driver of the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet, clinched the title simply by starting the race.
Dutch driver VeeKay didn’t have a day indicative of his season. On Lap 47, he collided with rookie Scott McLaughlin in the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Chevrolet in Turn 1. McLaughlin made contact with Marco Andretti in the No. 98 Curb / AutoNation Honda and spun around, and VeeKay had nowhere to go, hitting the front of McLaughlin’s car.
McLaughlin, who was unveiled Friday as a full-time INDYCAR driver in 2021 with Team Penske, was forced to retire from the race and finished 22nd. VeeKay lost two laps and finished 15th. VeeKay announced Sunday morning he will return to Ed Carpenter Racing in 2021.
The only street course on the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, was a dramatic race from start to finish that was not generous to the strongest cars in the field.
Pole sitter Will Power led the first five laps in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, but a downshifting issue allowed Alexander Rossi to take the lead in the No. 27 AutoNation / NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda as 2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Power slowed on Lap 6.
On Lap 36, two-time St. Petersburg winner Power got loose exiting Turn 3 while running fourth and hit the wall. Power pulled off the course in Turn 4, ending his day and finishing 24th.
From there, 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Rossi dominated the race, leading all but five laps by the time disaster struck on Lap 70.
After pitting from the lead on Lap 66, Rossi was pushing his Andretti Autosport Honda as he waited for green flag pit stops to cycle through. Then, exiting Turn 4, Rossi lost control and hit the inside wall with the front and rear of the car. Rossi finished 21st.
“I just lost it in Turn 3, man,” said Rossi, who was looking to end the season with four consecutive podium finishes. “It’s been tough all weekend. Just human error. Hugely unfortunate. I think the No. 27 AutoNation Andretti Honda guys were phenomenal. Andretti Autosport was phenomenal all weekend. It’s the first time it’s happened to me, to crash from the lead. I don’t know what to say other than sorry to the boys, and we’ll come back next year.”
Trouble also struck Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammates late in the race. Herta, who ran second most of the race and led as late as Lap 79, overshot corners twice in the race, including once in the final run to the finish. Herta finished 11th but ended the season third in the championship standings.
Meanwhile, James Hinchcliffe, who drove the final three races in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, ran in the top five all race long until losing control of his car in Turn 14 under caution with just under 25 laps to go. Hinchcliffe damaged his front wing after contact with Jack Harvey in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda and finished a disappointing 14th.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES will enter a brief offseason before the green flag waves on the 2021 season at the same place this year ended: the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, March 7, 2021.
‘What They’re Saying’ from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
1st – JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s definitely bittersweet. First off, congratulations to Scott (Dixon) and all his guys, his crew. It’s big time to win six championships. I’m sure they’re thrilled. They’re a great competitor. On one hand, I don’t really know what I could do different this year. I don’t know what I could ask my guys to do different. They were flawless. Fastest in the pits all year long. I’m extremely proud to drive for my team. Not just our car, but all the teams combined, all the engineers, all the mechanics – we have an incredible crew that puts in a lot of work. We just came up short. That’s all it is. We weren’t good enough. We’ll reset. We’ll hit them harder next year. I promise you we’ll be in the fight; this crew will be in the fight every year. So, I have confidence we’ll come back. So, thank you to Hitachi, Team Chevy. Team Chevy was the engine to beat today and all year long, so big credit to them. Just a little short on points. We’ll come back and hit them harder next year.” (About strategy amid a chaotic race): “No doubt, we didn’t need a full green race, so that played into our favor today. We had the flow of the race we needed, but it wasn’t anything they gave us. We had a solid day. We needed to be fairly quick. I think we had a fairly quick car, and we just had to make some moves. That’s all we could do to try and get to the front. We outlasted everybody and did what we needed to do. We knew coming into this that fate wasn’t in our own hands. We weren’t going to be able to decide things. So, we just did what we could and hoped for the best.” (About racing Pato O’Ward): “This is one of the future stars of INDYCAR. He’s already a star of INDYCAR. I’m a huge Pato fan, so it was fun to race him. He’s driven me so clean. Even when it was very difficult at the end of the race, all of the pickup on the tires, it was tough to clean off, he’s just a great competitor. I’ve really loved driving against him.”
2nd – PATO O’WARD (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet): “I’m so proud of Arrow McLaren SP and myself for what we accomplished this year. Our win will have to wait. We came in second place in the season finale, just five points short of third place in the championship. We have lots to be proud of. I’m really grateful for the opportunity that I got. I think we showcased that we are a force to be reckoned with, and we are going to be pushing next year to give these veterans a harder time. Hopefully bring it to the last race and win this championship.”
3rd – SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It’s all the team. I can’t thank everybody on this team enough. Obviously, Chip (Ganassi), Mike (Hull) and Barry (Wanser) and everybody involved – obviously, Honda. I’m proud to be powered by Honda and what they’ve been able to pull out this year given the deficit we’ve had going into Indy previous years. They nailed it. Big thanks to everybody. My family – I’m glad my girls are here. (Wife) Emma is somewhere. Unfortunately (toddler son) Kit isn’t here. It’s a big shame that he wouldn’t be here. I can’t thank everybody enough. PNC Bank, two out of three years (as champion) – that’s pretty good going.” (About tough discussions during offseason after losing title last year): “It’s never just one thing or one person. For me, it’s about the team effort. We had a lot of changes in the offseason. Credit to Josef (Newgarden) and Team Penske. They drove the last part of the season flawlessly and a lot points, so that was pretty awesome to race them again. And we know next year is going to be the same, but huge thanks again to everyone on the team. Now we’re going to have a beer.” (About thinking of winning a seventh title to tie A.J. Foyt): “Well, six is good. Seven is better. That’s going to be the goal. But it’s tough. As you can see from the competition, even if you mess up just a little bit in qualifying, we had some problems this weekend and just couldn’t piece it together. Credit again to the team and just being able to pull ourselves out of that hole and stay consistent and just have a smooth race, and that’s what we did. We definitely had the speed when we needed to push. Credit to Josef. He drove a hell of a race there and put us under a lot of pressure.”
4th – SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Well, what a race. I’m super happy for the 14 team AJ Foyt Racing and Chevrolet. Those guys were on the cusp the whole time, and we were fighting for a million dollars today. We had things under control, and then it seemed to slip away and finishing fourth in some pretty incredible situations there at the end with a car that was legitimately fast. So, really happy that we could finish the season on a high like that and looking forward to 2021.”
5th – RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Despite our starting position, we had a really positive day. We came through the field twice to finish fifth. I’m proud of the DHL boys both on the track and in pit lane today. It’s nice to have a top five to finish the season, but we thought we could have more than that with our pace. We’ll regroup and come back stronger in March.”
6th – SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “That was a good finish for the Menards Chevrolet. It was survival of the fittest out there today. At one point, I said on the radio that there could be many, many more cautions, and there was. We just couldn’t get in a race rhythm. But we were able take advantage of all those other people’s mistakes and put ourselves in position to have a good finish. All weekend, the car was really good – I think it was better than even sixth, where we finished. But I’m pretty excited to build upon this for next year. All in all, good weekend. It was also good to see the fans back at the track. We finished St. Pete, just a few months after the fact.”
7th – MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a very busy race, with so much going on. We had so many cautions and restarts. We have a super-fast car, so I was making spots and we were aggressive on the strategy. Throughout the race, we were so unlucky with every caution. Every yellow that came out was basically on the wrong time for us. I think I overtook some guys three or four times. We were unlucky, but to manage to get away and up to P7 was still a great result. I was very happy with my performance and the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda crew’s performance. I think we went out on a high with this last race, but we were very unlucky with the yellows. Big congrats to Scott (Dixon). He’s an amazing driver, and his sixth championship win is well deserved.”
8th – CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 4 Tresiba / AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Well, today the Grand Prix of St Petersburg was a success for AJ Foyt Racing. For us, the No 4 Tresiba Chevrolet coming from a not-optimum qualifying in 20th all the way through to eighth, so much credit goes to the guys in pit lane — great pit stops. They’ve had great pit stops all year. They’re in the top 10 as far as the pit stop championship among all the teams in pit lane. So, much credit to them, credit to the engineers here and at home working to make the car better and better. Just had to put the laps in at the end. Got a little tight a couple of times, banged off a few people, but that’s street racing in INDYCAR. It’s nice to have a double top-10 to finish out 2020, which has been tough, strange and challenging in so many ways.”
9th – GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): “That was a bruiser. Thank you so much to our sponsors for another season. Once again, we finished every lap today and raised $5,000 and will crest $110,000 this year for Turns for Troops, so I ‘m very proud of that. I’m proud of our year. Today was another competitive day. We got unlucky with that yellow. Our strategy was working great, and our car was fast, as we showed. That yellow really put a damper on our day. It took us from being quite strong to being mired back in the field. I’m proud of our organization. Our guys worked awfully hard this year. I want to thank the fans for their support and for sticking with INDYCAR racing this year. Let’s come back in 2021 and make this sport grow even more. We love putting on a good show for you, so thank you for all your support. Now it’s time for me to go home and have a kid. Well, not me. My wife, us.”
10th – TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Panasonic / Mi-Jack Honda): “It was a tough race, but it was good to be back in St. Petersburg. At one stage, we were sixth, so a top-five finish was possible. But we were involved with two Andretti cars in an incident. Obviously, we were bumping each other a little bit, but unfortunately I got a penalty for avoidable contact, so I had to go back in the queue, which essentially finished my race. But we came back to a top 10, which was good just finishing with Graham (Rahal). What an amazing season. Once again, thank you everyone, thank you Eddie (Jones, race engineer) and the 30 boys. RLL did a great, great job. I’m proud to be working with the team again for 2021. It was my best season ranking, but I wanted to finish a little higher today. Nevertheless, I think it was a fantastic season. See you all in 2021.”
Remainder of Drivers (alphabetical – with finishing position):
MARCO ANDRETTI (20th – No. 98 AutoNation/Curb Honda): “I drove my absolutely heart out. We were in a position and would have maybe gained more positions. We were in the money, so to say. I left room to the apex, and I think I just got tagged. We got a flat, and then it was all down from there. We were so much faster; I just can’t believe we are in this position. I’ve never seen a season like we’ve had this year with the misfortunes. Some of it is luck, and some of it is not. We need to work to fix the things that are not. The prep for 2021 starts now.”
OLIVER ASKEW (16th – No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet): “We had a really strong weekend up until the second half of the race. We were heading for a top-10 finish until I got taken out. It’s a bummer we couldn’t get a positive result in our final race with Arrow McLaren SP, but I think I showed the rest of the series what I can do. I want to thank the entire team for all the hard work they have put in this year and support they have given me.”
MAX CHILTON (12th – No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “That felt like the longest INDYCAR race I’ve ever done apart from the ‘500.’ It was just unbelievably long and challenging. The tires were the hardest we’ve ever used, and I don’t think I was the only one struggling with them. There were multiple good drivers spinning out and crashing during the race. We didn’t have the pace all day, but then we sort of lucked into a good bit of strategy. I was fired up, but we just couldn’t get the tire temps up. Every time I exited the last corner, I got eaten alive. Apart from that, I held my position, so I kind of feel like we had a top-10 taken away from us. I can honestly say that I gave it 100 percent and did my best, and the guys did a great job in the pits. It’s disappointing to not get a top 10 here this weekend because that was our target, but we were able to come from the back and make up 12 spots, so we’ll take that as a massive positive into the offseason.”
CONOR DALY (17th – No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet): “I am definitely guilty of making a big mistake under yellow. Rinus (VeeKay) came out of the pits quite quick right in front of us, and everyone just stopped all of a sudden around the next corner. When the tires were cold, they were like ice. As soon as they locked up, I had nowhere to go. The U.S. Air Force Chevrolet was really fast, which was good. We made some great progress on the race setup. Even after the contact, the car was still fast, so that was really encouraging.”
SANTINO FERRUCCI (23rd – No. 18 SealMaster Honda): “We had a fantastic start to the race. We had the SealMaster Honda up to 14th, then 13th . We just kept racing along. We came out of the pits after a really good, super-fast pit stop and had contact going into Turn 4 when another car came from the outside and hit us. The contact did slight damage to the car. During the next stint, I unfortunately clipped the inside wall. When we went to do the restart, the front suspension let go, and my car went straight into the wall. Obviously, I’m disappointed about today. However, I want to thank the team for all the hard work and our partners for all their support during this unique season.”
JACK HARVEY (19th – No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda): “That race pretty much just summed up our year. We’ve had so much pace all year, and every time something happens that knocks us down, we’ve been way inside the top 10. I feel like the team deserves to be seventh or eighth in points. I feel like that’s where I deserve to be as a driver, so it’s a super-disappointing day. The ramifications of what James (Hinchcliffe) did by waiting and choosing the wrong time to come back out on track are huge, and it cost us a lot in the championship.”
COLTON HERTA (11th – No. 88 Capstone Turbine #ShiftToGreen Honda): “I’m fairly upset with my performance on track today, but I think throughout the year we did a really good job. I’m really happy to finish P3 in the championship, and hopefully we can carry some of that momentum into next year. But for St. Pete, obviously pretty upset with how it went. I think we had a pretty good shot at a win, and I just messed it up. I’m sorry to guys about that, but overall happy with how the 88 team performed this year.”
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (14th – No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “In 16 years of racing cars, I’ve never spun out under caution before. Just my fault. The pace car was going really, really slow, and it was super hard to keep heat in the tires. Going through the last corner there, I was making an adjustment on the wheel and just had one hand on the wheel. Even at 30 mph, you’re going slower than pit lane speed, and the thing spun. It’s my fault, but we were on the radio trying to get the pace car to go faster because the cars were almost harder to drive at pace car speed than they were at race speed. But that’s on me. The worst part is that coming back on track, I did it dangerously and not only hit someone but hit a (Andretti Technologies) teammate. That’s an even bigger black eye. To have a podium car – the guys did such a great job all weekend on the Gainbridge entry, and I was really hoping to give them a strong result to end the year. I’m gutted for the whole team; I’m gutted for Jack (Harvey) – can’t be sorrier than I am for him. Not the way we wanted to end the year, but still some positives to take out of it. We had good pace in qualifying and the race. We had a podium car and just didn’t pull it off today, and that’s on me. Sorry to the team.”
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN (22nd – No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Chevrolet): “What a day. The best day of my life, except for my wedding. The Shell V-Power Nitro+ INDYCAR was going really well. Then I just made a move trying to block Marco (Andretti). Then I felt like I made a half of a rear lock, but I’m not exactly sure. Cold tires caught me out a little bit. But I had a lot of fun today. I just can’t thank my guys, Roger (Penske), Tim (Cindric), Shell V-Power and the entire organization for the weekend. It was so much fun. I wish the 2021 season was starting tomorrow. I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of this car.”
ALEX PALOU (13th – No. 55 Guaranteed Rate Honda): “We didn’t have a good start because I made a mistake staying in our fuel saving map, so that sent us back a few spots. It’s so difficult to overtake here, so as soon as the yellow came out, we gambled a bit with our strategy. At the end of the day it didn’t work out, but it was the right thing to do. I think we needed another yellow to be able to finish in the top five with our Guaranteed Rate Honda. We did the best we could today. I’m sad that it’s the end of the season. Looking back, there were some good moments and some not-so-good moments. I think it was a tough season, in general, with the limited practice to learn the tracks and understand the car, but it was a great learning experience that will hopefully help for the future.”
WILL POWER (24th – No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I just lost it. The rear bottomed, and I just had a moment. Earlier in the race, the Verizon Chevrolet didn’t downshift for some reason. It did it a couple of times. Then I started downshifting really early. I don’t know what happened or if that caused any of our issues. It just didn’t go down gears, and that is how (Alexander) Rossi got me, and then (Colton) Herta attacked for position. But I’m just frustrated with me making a mistake and hitting the wall. The car got loose, and it’s just so very, very frustrating. I shouldn’t be the one crashing. My bad for putting us out of the race.”
FELIX ROSENQVIST (18th – No. 10 NTT Honda): “We didn’t get off to a good start. We went a little bit off strategy. We got back into the race a little bit, but (Santino) Ferrucci coming out of the pits locked up and drove into my rear tire. We got a puncture and fell a lap behind. Then, with all of the cautions, I worked my way into the lead lap. We had a lot of cautions and restarts, and we got up to P8. Then, Marcus (Ericsson) and I made contact. I gave him all the room I could. It was a shame our race was pretty much over from there.”
ALEXANDER ROSSI (21st – No. 27 AutoNation / NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “I just lost it in Turn 3, man. It’s been tough all weekend. Just human error. Hugely unfortunate. I think the No. 27 AutoNation Andretti Honda guys were phenomenal. Andretti Autosport was phenomenal all weekend. It’s the first time it’s happened to me, to crash from the lead. I don’t know what to say other than sorry to the boys, and we’ll come back next year.” (About buildup of rubber on track): “It was hard, man, on the restarts and such. That wasn’t what caused it (crash) out there. It just kind of bumped the wrong way, and I couldn’t save it.”
RINUS VEEKAY (15th – No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet): “I am officially Rookie of the Year. I am very happy with that. Everything we didn’t want to have happen in the race happened, though. We were super quick, but the first yellow kind of screwed us. I was in the pack after that. Scott McLaughlin spun to the inside, and I was there. I couldn’t go anywhere. After that, it was just about bringing the car home and getting the points. I think another podium was a possibility; we had such a fast car. We have to wait a few months until we come back, but we’ll give it another shot. I am looking forward to being back – not as a rookie.”