How likely is Scott Dixon to hold onto the Indycar Driver’s Championship lead?
The New Zealander goes into the first of the final five races in the Indycar season (Sunday at Mid-Ohio) with a commanding 62-point lead over second-place and defending series champion Josef Newgarden. A lead large enough that no matter what happens, Dixon is assured of leading the championship after the race.
First, a word about the Indycar points system. Most of the points are won with finishing in the race. The winner gets 50-points, then the points slide down in the following manner:
40-35-32-28-26d24-22-20-19-18-17-16-15-14-13-12-11-10-9-8. When there are 22 cars in a race, the minimum one can score is 8. So the most one can gain in a normal race is 42. There are also bonus points for pole (1 point), leading a lap (1 point) and leading the most laps (2 points).
Then there is the complicating factor of the season finale, which is double points.
If you look at the numbers, it’s definitely possible for Newgarden (Penske-Chevy) to overhaul Dixon (Ganassi-Honda). But is it likely?
To figure that out, we classified all the races into categories: street, road, speedway and short oval. Then we averaged Dixon’s and Newgarden’s previous performances on those kinds of tracks and applied them to upcoming races.
For Mid-Ohio, Portland and Sonoma we used the drivers’ average points finishes for previous road course races (Barber, Road America and the GP of Indy). For Mid-Ohio and Portland, we would expect Newgarden to score 42.7 points to Dixon’s 34.7. And for Sonoma, we would double those numbers to 85.3 and 69.3. This is because Newgarden has been better than Dixon (and everyone else) on previous Road Course races, winning both Barber and Road America.
That leaves the Short Oval at Gateway and the Speedway at Pocono. Based on previous short oval races (Phoenix and Iowa) we would expect Newgarden to outperform Dixon 43-25. Based on previous speedway races (the Indy 500 and Texas), we would expect Dixon to outscore Newgarden at Pocono 44-23.
So using our system, who wins at the end of the year? Let’s look at this Race-by-Race.
Mid-Ohio—Newgarden 42.7/Dixon 34.7. Lead cut to 54.
Pocono—Newgarden 23.25/Dixon 44.25. Lead extends to 75.
Gateway—Newgarden 43/Dixon 34.7. Lead cut to 57.
Portland— Newgarden 42.7/Dixon 34.7. Lead cut to 49.
Portland— Newgarden 85.3/Dixon 69.3. Dixon wins by 33.
What does this mean? It means that the Road courses are critical for Newgarden. To average 42, Newgarden has to finish first or second in all the remaining road courses. And because passing is tough at each of those tracks, qualification becomes the key to everything.
It also means that equaling his previous finishes won’t be enough for Newgarden. Dixon has to perform sub-optimally at some point as well: Newgarden needs some help.
The first test is Mid-Ohio on Saturday. Newgarden MUST qualify ahead of Dixon. But it takes more than that. It’s going to take a first or second place finish (ahead of Dixon) to set the table for the rest of the schedule. Newgarden can’t afford a repeat of Toronto, where he crashed out of the lead and finished 9th while Dixon won and added 29 points to his lead.
It should be fun. Dixon has won five times at Mid-Ohio, but Newgarden won the last time. The defending champion isn’t out of the race this year, but the pressure is on.