Dixon, Ganassi finally break through in 15th IndyCar race of the season

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It’s weird when Chip Ganassi Racing enters into an extended “drought” as you were, but this season has been a case of that happening.

The four-car team had not won a Verizon IndyCar Series race this season through the first 14 races, although nine drivers from six other teams had.

But in the 15th race, Sunday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a track where Scott Dixon dominates, Ganassi and “Dixie” finally broke through. It took strategy to do it but Dixon, in the team’s No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, is now the 10th different winner in 2014 and from the seventh different team.

On a lighter note, team boss Ganassi avoided an encore of when he fell off the pit wall last year, when Charlie Kimball secured his first victory of his career.

Last year it took until the 11th round of the season, when Dixon captured another improbable victory – coming from 17th to win at Pocono following his car getting excellent fuel mileage.

Of course the difference this year is CGR now runs Chevrolet engines compared to Hondas.

Other slow starts for Ganassi before they hit victory lane have been few and far between.

Here’s when CGR has won its first race of the season for the last decade:

  • 2014: Round 15, Mid-Ohio, Dixon
  • 2013: Round 11, Pocono, Dixon
  • 2012: Round 5, Indianapolis 500, Dario Franchitti
  • 2011: Round 1, St. Petersburg, Franchitti
  • 2010: Round 5, Kansas, Dixon
  • 2009: Round 2, Long Beach, Franchitti
  • 2008: Round 1, Homestead, Dixon
  • 2007: Round 1, Homestead, Dan Wheldon
  • 2006: Round 1, Homestead, Wheldon
  • 2005: Round 16, Watkins Glen, Dixon

The 2004 and 2005 seasons were tough slogs for the Ganassi organization, due primarily to a down-on-power Toyota engine. Dixon’s win in the 16th race of 2005 at Watkins Glen saved the team from its second consecutive winless season; 2004 marks the last time CGR failed to visit victory lane.

Dixon and the pit crew saved the team from matching that mark a full decade later.

Besides Dixon’s win, the Novo Nordisk and NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing teams also bagged top-10 finishes (Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe were seventh and eighth), while Tony Kanaan’s strong weekend ended early when he was caught up in the first lap collision at Turn 4.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.