Reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden believes he can still beat Scott Dixon to the 2020 title, but says he needs to “reverse the trend” of his season so far.
Team Penske driver Newgarden scored the 16th win of his career and second of the 2020 season on Sunday at Gateway, while Dixon finished fifth, but having been classified only 12th in Saturday’s race, he still made a net loss in the championship battle.
Five-time series champion Dixon took his 50th US open wheel victory in the first of the Gateway races on Saturday, extending his advantage from 84 to 117 points, before it was reduced to 96 points on Sunday.
Reflecting on his title defence, Newgarden said that his team had endured a lot of bad luck, and needed to reverse the current cycle of disappointing results.
“Yesterday [Saturday] hurt, Indy 500 [in which he finished fifth to Dixon’s second] hurt even more,” he said.
“It’s a shame, we’ve just been bitten one too many times this year.
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“Normally I feel like the cycle kind of comes around, it starts to ease up on you and starts to hurt someone else.
“This year it’s just not seemed to ease up on us a whole lot. We’ve had a lot of yellow situations which have gone against us.
“We’ve had a couple other issues here or there – some of them were self-induced, some were out of our control, we’ve just not had a very smooth year.
“In all honesty, I think we could have had four or five wins by this point. We’re not there. We’re a little bit behind.
“We seem to keep losing ground. We normally take a step forward and two back.
“I think if we can reverse that trend, we can fight for a championship. If we can flip that where we take at least two steps forward and maybe a step back, you’re coming out with a net win.
“But we can’t quite claw forward, we just can’t have situations like yesterday where the yellow bites us.
“If those things stop happening, I think we can fight Dixon with five races to go now.
“It’s tough. We have to have some help, but it’s possible. Anything is possible with that amount of races left.”
Newgarden was swift to heap praise on his Team Penske pitcrew, whom he credited with the win.
On the final pitstop, Newgarden jumped ahead of Pato O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP machine, although the 2018 Indy Lights champion was close enough to attempt to pass him at pit exit – keeping up the pursuit to the checkered flag.
Newgarden also lauded O’Ward’s efforts during the race, labelling the 21-year-old as a “real talent”.
“It was very close,” smiled Newgarden.
“I thought [O’Ward] was going to maybe back out. We were just slightly ahead thanks to my crew.
“My pit crew has been just unbelievable, I don’t even know what to say – I think they’ve been fast or fastest in the majority of races we’ve been in. They’re so good on pit lane.
“We just got ahead of him, I moved on him just a little bit to try and show him that we were ahead.
“I thought maybe he would lift out, and I made sure I hit the button just right on the cone so he didn’t get a good jump, [so] I was just kind of surprised to see him holding on the outside.
“We gave each other room, we went two-wide, we raced all the way to Turn 3.
“I think the first thing I would say is he’s doing an amazing job.
“Pato has been a real talent. I always believed he was a strong driver, [and] it’s nice to see him find his success and doing a great job.”