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Scott Dixon’s balancing family, driver roles helps make him great

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The accolades that immediately roll off the tongue when you mention Scott Dixon’s name are his racing accomplishments: 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner, four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion, and fourth all-time on the Indy car win list with 40, trailing only A.J. Foyt (67), Mario Andretti (52) and Michael Andretti (42).

So what’s the accolade you don’t necessarily put alongside it, but you should? His dedication and devotion as a family man, in the dual role of husband to wife Emma and full-time dad to daughters Poppy and Tilly. He and Emma celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary today.

The Dixons, who have made Indianapolis their permanent residence in recent years but also spent a fair bit of time of St. Petersburg helping the Wheldon family, are, if not renowned as the first family of the current IndyCar grid, they’re close.

Talking about family, rather than racing, doesn’t come easily to Dixon – who as typically as he gets on with the job behind the wheel, also does so at home. He does this as he prepares for his 17th season in IndyCar, 16th with Chip Ganassi Racing and for the first time, without Target sponsorship.

“I feel very lucky with my job, but also the time we get with family,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We have extremely long offseasons.

“So by their nature, that gives you that time to be, for me, a dad … I can fully be there to take the kids to school, maybe crash their lunches, or take them to gymnastics or tennis. A lot of people don’t get that opportunity.”

Dixon’s schedule isn’t usually as travel heavy for work purposes over the IndyCar offseason as, for example, Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball, who spends much of his time traveling the country and world for Novo Nordisk appearances.

The extent of Dixon’s offseason travel is usually for sports car races – he competes in one of Ganassi’s Ford GTs in the endurance races as third driver to his past IndyCar teammate Ryan Briscoe and sports car veteran Richard Westbrook.

“Both Emma and I travel a lot but we also get time to be with the kids, because having a normal job can be from 8 to 5. Others have it even worse… if you’re a doctor, nurse or whatever, the hours are extremely long,” Dixon said.

He puts his full focus on his day job first, but he’s never let that impede on the duties at home.

“For me, I love racing… I love the challenge of it, and that’s important,” he said. “But there’s family and then racing. The other promotional stuff, media requirements, things like that, are probably the harder part for me. Talking about the racing is easier.”

One of the races he was talking about this offseason was the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, a race Dixon has gotten more interested over the years to go along with his interest growing up in watching the Australian Supercars classic, the Bathurst 1000 (now the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000).

“It’s kind of like their Indianapolis 500,” Dixon explained. “I watched the 1000 every year back in the days, going back to watching Peter Brock, Dick Johnson and those legends. I’ve been there twice maybe to watch the race? But I was only 14 or 15 at the time.

“That place has fascinated me. The track is so cool. A lot of the guys that are racing there now, I’ve competed against in the junior categories and now do most of the V8 races. It’s a national thing… all the mates I went to school with. It’d be watch Bathurst, have a BBQ, getting ready for watching. Hopefully one day there’s one day I can race there, man.”

If the opportunity arises, Dixon would jump at the chance to race at Bathurst, with the 12-hour as a “warm-up act” to any appearance in the 1000.

“Thinking about it, the whole idea would be to do the 12-hour before Supercars and the 1000. Timing-wise, it’s possible to do both, but contractually it might be harder. I’d love to do it though; I’ve put fingers out to try to see what the possibilities are.”

Mike Hull, Dixon’s longtime race strategist and managing director at Chip Ganassi Racing, also worked to explain what makes Dixon so good from the dual family/driver role.

“You never realize what’s in front of you while you have it,” Hull told NBC Sports. “When it’s Scott Dixon we’re talking about, if he’s not the best ever, he’s one of the best.

“People don’t realize what he’s done as a driver. When you think about the iterations of cars he’s raced. It’s not the same as the CART ones that changed, or the IRL ones that changed. He’s been continually winning in a different kind of IndyCar for 15 years. He doesn’t give up trying to understand himself better on a driver. He’s like a chameleon. He’s always trying to suit the car, driver and track… some drivers are so singularly focused in their driving style, and they have to step around their egos.

“But that’s why he’s won as many races as he has… 40 of them. Other guys have raced cars at a different time. Scott has been blessed with good teammates. What Scott does is work so hard, but so unselfishly with his teammates to make each other better.

“He’s worked so hard to achieve what he has unselfishly. You’ll get the most from him every day.”

Penske: No room for Patrick in Indy 500 lineup. Ganassi? OK

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Roger Penske has no room in his Indianapolis 500 lineup for Danica Patrick.

“The Captain” has a hunch where Patrick’s Indy comeback will take her in May – with Chip Ganassi.

“I sent him a note and said, `Congratulations. Danica better be driving your car at Indy because unfortunately she’s not driving for us,”‘ Penske said, laughing.

The 35-year-old Patrick said this week she will race only in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 next year and then she will walk away from racing. Patrick is the only woman to have led laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Patrick ran the Indy 500 from 2005 through 2011. Her highest finish was third in 2009, and she was the first woman to lead laps in the race when she paced the field for 19 trips around the Brickyard as a rookie.

Penske has a full field for Indy with Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden racing as fulltime entries and three-time winner Helio Castroneves returns on a one-shot deal to try and win a fourth.

Chip Ganassi Racing is the likely ride at Indy. Ganassi has room to field additional cars – he’s scaling down from four full-time cars to two next year – and would give Patrick a car capable of winning. Ganassi said Friday he has met with Patrick and called her “Danica Double” a great idea.

Penske said Patrick and Ganassi, who has Ed Jones and IndyCar great Scott Dixon in his lineup, would be a perfect pair.

“I think that’s a great seat for her,” Penske said Saturday. “That’s a great team. They’re the ones that’s always been competitive there. I take my hat off that she wants to continue to go back to open wheel. That’s going to be terrific for the sport and there’s going to be a lot of interest around the country.”

Patrick was highly marketable early in her career even though wins were rare. She won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013, but finished 24th in the standings the last two seasons. She won her only IndyCar race in 2008, in Japan. Patrick never scored a top-five finish in NASCAR and had only seven top 10s (though she led laps at the Daytona 500) in 189 career starts.

Penske, a 16-time winner as a car owner of the Indy 500, said Patrick would return to IndyCar a better driver.

“I think she’s going to come back to IndyCar a lot tougher having run in NASCAR,” he said. “I think she’s going to be someone that, in a good car, is going to pick it up. She’s got plenty of time to practice.”

Team Penske won the owner championship Saturday in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. Sam Hornish Jr., who won three IndyCar titles and the 2006 Indy 500, said the sport would welcome back Patrick.

“She’s probably going to have a better shot at Indy because of what she’s done the last five years,” Hornish said.

Patrick has not revealed the team she’ll race for but surely a package deal with the same team and same sponsor for the biggest races in motorsports would make her again racing’s most marketable driver.

“I think it’s a great way for her to say, hey, I’m here, I’ve done it, I’m going to go back to the two biggest races and see if I can’t get out on top,” Penske said.

Penske can win a NASCAR championship with Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup race.

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More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org