State of the Championship: Dixon Out to an Early Lead, Power Needs Help

With the IndyCar season shortened in 2020, every race becomes more important for drivers looking to win the championship. Mechanical failures and crashes are more costly and might even take drivers out of the championship hunt completely. With the first race of the season complete, The Single Seater’s championship projection model is now live. I’ve already talked about a few of the updates to this year’s model here, so this article will walk through how it sees the championship race panning out with 13 races remaining.

Scott Dixon dominated at Texas with an average track position of 1.3 and also put himself in a strong position to win the championship to start the year. Our model gives Scott Dixon a 44% chance of winning the 2020 IndyCar title which is the highest of any driver. Dixon currently holds a 13 point lead over Simon Pagenaud who has the second highest chance of winning the IndyCar title at around 34%. Our Elo ratings see Pagenaud and Dixon as the two best drivers in the field with Elo ratings of 1,907 and 1,904, respectively. Last season Dixon was involved in two crashes and had a mechanical failure at Gateway that really hurt his championship run. He had the second highest Expected Points total in the field behind only last year’s champion, Josef Newgarden. Pagenaud’s real strength in 2019 came from outperforming his starting position expectation. Average Extra Positions (AEP) is a metric that captures how many places a driver finishes above their expected finishing position based on where they started. Last season, Pagenaud led all full-time drivers with an AEP of 4.6 places. That was the seventh highest full season AEP since at least 2008.

Newgarden has the third best chance to win the title at 18% followed by Alexander Rossi with a 3.4% chance. Rossi finished in 15th place at Texas after experiencing mechanical problems before the race even started. These drivers rank third and fourth in our Elo ratings and are the only other drivers in the field with an Elo rating above 1,700.

In the 4,000 simulations we ran of the remaining races of the season, only two other drivers finished first in the championship. Both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power have less than a 1% chance of winning the title. Power might be the one driver whose low probability of winning will cause some people to think twice. Power has the fifth highest Elo rating in the IndyCar series at 1,699, but he’s over a 100 points behind Rossi in Elo rating and he finished just 13th at Texas. He’s someone who I think has the possibility of challenging for the title, but he’ll need help (or missteps) from Dixon, Pagenaud, and Newgarden to make that happen. When you factor that in, around a 1 in 100 chance of winning doesn’t seem that far off.

Here are the championship finishing position distributions for all of the top contenders:

For a full look at the championship projections for every driver and place, check out our stats page. If you have any questions you’d like me to to answer in the next State of the Championship, let know in the comments or on Twitter @thesingleseater.

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