Dixon stepped on gas to overcome Indy setback

Dixon stepped on gas to overcome Indy setback

The harsh reality of Scott Dixon’s season is that he could have his record-binding NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship in hand on his way to this weekend’s season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Dixon was the dominant driver at this year’s Indianapolis 500, presented by Gainbridge, having just led his 95th lap as he came to the pit lane for his final stop of the race. But speeding on entry by the slightest margin resulted in a penalty that he was unable to overcome. Instead of winning the race for the second time in his career, Dixon was reduced to 21st.

That moment still looms large. Dixon competes in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, the series leader, Team Penske’s Will Power, with 20 points. If Dixon had even finished in the top three at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, he could have an almost insurmountable lead. By winning the double points “500”, he might have been 60 or more points ahead at this point.

“If we had won Indy, the championship might have been over,” he said. “But that’s part of racing, man. You have to deal with the highs with the lows. I moved on the Monday after the race. You should. I can not change it.”

Dixon has been on the gas ever since, the series’ most consistent driver through the months of June, July, August and the first race in September. His victories in the Honda Indy Toronto and the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville are part of his 10 consecutive top nine finishes since the ‘500’.

Dixon leads all series drivers in points having scored 337 since that disappointment in May. Power has scored 321.

“To be honest, I’d say this is our natural occurrence,” Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dixon said of the late-season heroism in his 21-year career. “I feel like consistency is definitely key (for winning titles), especially in the current format of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with how competitive the championship is with depth.

“Your best days are like Portland, where you start 16th and finish third, or St. Louis when we turned eighth. Those are still points that you put in the bag. You have to average fifth or sixth throughout the season to have a chance (of the championship). It simplifies things, but trust me, a lot of those days are really tough days.”

Dixon will likely need another one of those days on Sunday when the green flag is waved for the start of the 95-lap race. His No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was not strong in road track qualifying resulting in starting positions of 13th at Barber Motorsports Park, 21st and 20th in the two road course races at IMS, ninth at Road America, fifth at the Mid -Ohio Sports Car Course and the 16th at Portland International Raceway. He hopes the team’s recent test at Laguna Seca will help, but he knows nothing is certain.

“The downside of things is how you got into that situation,” he said of disappointing efforts during qualifying on the road. “But when you (the race) find out, that’s the winning formula or the part you’re most happy with.”

If Dixon becomes the series champion on Sunday, he will tie AJ ​​Foyt for the most titles in the history of the sport.

Others also strong in the second half

Dixon is not the only driver to have had a strong second half of the season. Josef Newgarden, Power and Scott McLaughlin all have at least 320 points since the “500”, a testament to the competitiveness this series has delivered this season, especially at the top of the grid.

Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) has won three races since Indy, McLaughlin (No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet) has won two. Power took his only win of the season in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix that Lear presented the week after the ‘500’.

Newgarden is level with Dixon in the standings and he holds the tiebreaker for all title contenders thanks to the most wins this season (with five). His race on Sunday is a bull’s eye, just like the rest of his season.

“It’s funny to say, but if you take away the wins, it’s been a very difficult year,” Newgarden said. “So, I’m incredibly grateful that we still have a chance. We needed that door to still be open; now let’s try to climb through it.”

Strength: bad luck last year

It was quite a turnaround for series points leader Power, who was ninth in the standings this time last year, 180 points behind eventual champion Alex Palou (No.10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) en route to the final with no chance at the title.

Power finished ninth in points last year, his lowest since joining Team Penske full-time in 2010. He wrote Chevrolet for the win in 2022, adding that things just got better this year.

“Look, I think we were just unlucky last year, and we didn’t show our true potential,” said Power. “This year Chevy has improved the handling characteristics (of the engine), which has helped a lot, putting us in a nice window.”

Power said that off-season Team Penske focused on improving odds in the “500”, putting very little emphasis on road courses, street circuits and even short ovals.

“We really haven’t come up with anything special in relation to last year, which shows that the cars were good,” said Power. “We just put everything together really well this year and the handling of the bike helped a lot.”

Team Penske’s drivers have won 10 of the 16 races together and all three are still in the running for this championship.

“Outside of the Indy 500, I think we’ve really had the best cars in the paddock,” Newgarden said.

Odds and Ends

  • Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, announced the birth of second child from he and his wife, Courtney, a girl. Tinley Leighton Rahal was born on Tuesday.
  • The second practice of the weekend is Saturday at 1:15 PM ET, with qualification for the NTT P1 Award at 5:05 PM ET.
  • NBC has moved the start of the pre-race broadcast on Sunday to 2:40 PM ET. Coverage on the INDYCAR Radio Network begins at 3 p.m. The green flag is expected at 3.30 pm

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