Oct 25 (Reuters) - Josef Newgarden won the St. Petersburg Grand Prix on Sunday but Scott Dixon still claimed a sixth IndyCar driver’s crown, leaving the New Zealander just one title shy of legendary AJ Foyt’s record of seven.
It was Newgarden’s fourth win of the season and second straight on the St. Petersburg temporary road course that was supposed to be the season opener in March. Instead it became the series finale when the COVD-19 pandemic forced a reshuffling of the calendar. For the 15th consecutive year the IndyCar title decider came down to the last race with two drivers from powerhouse teams still in the hunt: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon and defending champion Team Penske’s Newgarden.
While Dixon sits third on the all-time IndyCar victory list, none have come in St. Petersburg and the 40-year-old driver did not need a win on a steamy Sunday to clinch the crown.
Leading Newgarden by 32 points, Dixon needed only to finish ninth or better to secure the title. His Penske rival had a mountain to climb, needing to finish second or better while he placed no worse than 23rd.
“Six is good but seven sounds better and that’s obviously going to be the goal,” laughed Dixon as he celebrated in Victory Lane. “It’s tough.
“Credit to the team able to stay consistent and just have a smooth race and that’s what we did.”
Newgarden started eighth and as expected was on the charge right from the green flag while Dixon, who qualified 11th, was content to cruise along mid-field much of the race.
With 20 laps to run Newgarden blasted into the lead to set up a tense finish but a clinical Dixon did not turn a wheel wrong, staying clear of a rash of mid-race incidents to take the big prize.
Newgarden, who came up 16 points short of defending his title, settled for the victory ahead of Mexico’s Pato O’Ward, with Dixon completing the podium.
“It is definitely bittersweet,” said Newgarden. “On one hand I don’t know what I would do different this year. I don’t know what I would ask my guys to do different.
“We just came up short, we weren’t good enough. We’ll reset and hit it harder next year.” (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Richard Chang)
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