Scott Dixon

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Dixon maintains excellent start despite another tough P2 at Barber

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Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that his start to his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – finishes of third, fourth and second – can be viewed as disappointing because potential wins have gone begging.

The latest chapter of his almost-winning-but-not-quite saga to open this year’s campaign occurred at the track where he has his best results without a win, Barber Motorsports Park.

Dixon was top Honda on the day in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but alas, one spot short of a victory as he scored his seventh Barber podium in eight races – all of them either seconds or thirds.

On this occasion, Dixon did his usual masterstroke of fuel saving by running longest in the first stint, running to Lap 24 and leading two laps.

Dixon also got ahead of Josef Newgarden on the final pit stop sequence despite running behind him and Will Power on the road during the middle stint.

But after a restart from the second and last full-course caution on Lap 68, Newgarden muscled his way past Dixon at Turns 15 and 16 for third place on the inside, leaving Dixon very little room on corner exit in a forceful but not dirty passing move.

While that was for third at the time, it wound up being the pass for the win because Dixon’s teammate, then-leader Charlie Kimball, pitted from an off-sequence strategy and the would-be winner, Power, pitted with a left rear puncture.

It left Dixon high and dry but in his usual so good, yet so close, P2, with three laps led. He felt worse for Power and gave Newgarden plaudits for the move.

“I saw him late coming into Turn 15 or 16. I tried to hold him back, but I wasn’t able to hold him back. It’s deserved for him,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Marty Snider post-race.

“The NTT Data car was strong. I feel bad for Will Power. It was a false flat tire perhaps? So yeah, that and a good job to Josef.”

Dixon elaborated a bit more on the day in the post-race press conference.

“I typically hold a fairly tight line there. But, yeah, he dove it in there, with some speed. He couldn’t make the corner at the appropriate time, so we kind of both ran wide there. But, you know, it was a great move.

“Josef did a hell of a job there on the blacks. Obviously had a clean start and really had some good longevity on that stint and was able to pit short and jump on reds.

“I think, you know, I feel bad for Will obviously with the flat tire issue there, but then also left the door open a little bit in 16. Josef put his nose in there. Tried to turn down, but through that whole complex, 14, 15, 16, I was just so loose. If I turned more, would have spun out.

“Credit to Josef. Drove a hell of a race. Team Penske, congratulations to them. Seventh podium here at Alabama without a win. Good in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we come here to win and we came up short.”

Despite not winning, Dixon still sits second in the points, just six points behind Sebastien Bourdais, who finished eighth.

Dixon and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series head to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix next weekend (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he has a win to defend.

IndyCar drivers expect Indy 500 challenge from F1 champ

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Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso is confident that in short time he can get up to speed for the Indianapolis 500, even though he has never before raced in IndyCar or on a superspeedway.

So are the IndyCar drivers Alonso will be competing against the last Sunday in May after his surprising announcement that he’s skipping the Monaco Grand Prix to instead race at the Brickyard that day.

“The experience that he has in motorsport, I don’t think it’ll be any problem for him,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves said.

“I think he absolutely does,” Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, said when asked if Alonso has a chance to win. “Obviously all of us want to win at that place, and the competition is extremely tough. But he has a great shot.”

Alonso will be the first Formula One world champion to drive as an Indy 500 rookie since Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet both in 1993. Mansell finished third, and Piquet 32nd that year. Seven other drivers won F1 titles after participating in the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s a step forward in my career. I want to the best driver and the most complete driver in the world,” said Alonso, adding that he needs to know how it is to handle the cars through the oval and the backstretch while driving so close to each other.

McLaren is back in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in 38 years with Alonso’s entry, a Dallara DW12 chassis run by Andretti Autosport. Team owner Michael Andretti is a former IndyCar champion who raced in Formula One for McLaren in 1993.

It will be Alonso’s first time driving at Indy as the 35-year-old Spaniard steps up his bid to win motorsport’s so-called “Triple Crown” of the Monaco GP, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours race. Alonso is a two-time Monaco GP winner, and has yet to drive Le Mans.

“I didn’t expect it to happen this year, but I know that he was looking at it,” Andretti said. “He’s a racer, and he sets goals for himself. He wants to be one of the few people to say he’s won the Triple Crown like that. So I admire him for that, to want to go out and do it – especially right now, in the middle of the season.”

Alonso will fly to Indianapolis immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix on May 14 to start practice for the May 28 race.

The only driver to win a Formula One title and then win the Indianapolis 500 in his first attempt was Graham Hill – in 1966, four years after the first of his two F1 titles. Hill is also the only Triple Crown winner in motorsports.

Andretti’s team won at the Brickyard last year with Indy 500 rookie driver Alexander Rossi, the former F1 test driver.

“You get enough miles around Indianapolis to sort of get a good basis on it,” Dixon said during a break at IndyCar testing in Texas. “He’s with a team that’s a proven winner, and teammates that are definitely proven winners, too. He’s walking into a good combination. Honda is a very strong package right now. So the stars are somewhat aligning for a great run for Fernando.”

And another big day for IndyCar, after last year’s Indianapolis 500 was a sellout breaking attendance marks and again had improved television ratings.

IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden talked about how incredible and impressive the 100th running of Indy was. For anyone wondering how the series would keep that momentum, having Alonso for the 101st makes a big difference.

“You’re not going to see any drop in momentum,” Newgarden said. “If anything, it’s going to be a better show, which is hard to do after what we had last year. But the Indy 500, it’s the greatest race in the world, and having a team like McLaren come back to that, to have an entry and also a driver of Alonso’s caliber to come over and race with us, it just speaks volumes to the type of race that the Indianapolis 500 is.”

Will Power said he “was pretty stoked” to hear about Alonso’s entry that brings a lot of attention to the IndyCar Series and its showcase event.

“Seeing the interest from a Formula One champion, a double world champion, is actually exciting, super exciting from a driver’s standpoint,” Simon Pagenaud said. “I think we’re all excited to get to race against him. … It’s going to be a great challenge.”

AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer and AP Sports Writers Steve Douglas, Michael Marot and Luke Meredith contributed to this report.

More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

Dixon tops Saturday practice at Long Beach

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Scott Dixon was back atop the speed charts during the third practice for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Dixon’s quick time of 1:07.1348 came in the final minutes of the session, making it the second time he’s led practice this weekend (he topped opening practice on Friday).

Ryan Hunter-Reay made it a Honda 1-2, also turning his fast lap in the final minutes. Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, and Takuma Sato ran third, fourth, and fifth respectively.

Of note, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais had an awkward start to the day, making light contact with the barriers in turn three. However, only the front wing suffered damage, and it was light damage at that, allowing Bourdais to quickly rejoin the session after brief repairs. He ended the session in ninth.

Two other drivers experienced hardships during third practice. Tony Kanaan suffered mechanical gremlins, which actually kept him from running for most of the session. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver suffered a sensor issue that the team had trouble diagnosing. However, they did manage to make repairs and Kanaan ran five laps in the final minutes to record the 15th best time. “We had a sensor issue that I wasn’t aware of. It took a long time but the guys did a great job to get me out for five laps,” he told IndyCar radio afterward. “It’s not good when you’re struggling. But great job by NTT Data guys. (I) wasn’t expecting to be out this session.”

James Hinchliffe, too, had problems of his own after leading much of the session before finishing up in fourth. He ran wide into the turn one runoff area and rejoined running slowly near the end of practice, though it was unclear if he had a problem or was being cautious.

Practice 3 times are below. Qualifying begins at 6:30 p.m. ET (3:30 PT and local time), and airs an hour later at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. PT) on NBCSN.

Dixon tops Honda-dominated first practice at Long Beach

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The Honda pace that kicked off the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg continued in the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Scott Dixon took his No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing to the top of the timesheets near the end of the session with a best time of 1:07.6357 around the 1.968-mile street circuit.

Dixon won here in 2015 for the first time and was frustrated to end in second last year after Simon Pagenaud’s pit lane exit from his final pit stop drew a warning, but not a penalty, from INDYCAR Race Control.

Helio Castroneves broke up an all-Honda top-six, as the two-time defending polesitter took his No. 3 AAA Chevrolet for Team Penske to second right at the end of the session at 1:07.7679.

St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais was third in his No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for Dale Coyne Racing at 1:07.8187 with James Hinchcliffe fourth and Will Power, a two-time Long Beach winner (2008, 2012) in fifth.

Per IndyCar Radio, Max Chilton was sidelined a bit, with electrical issues putting pause to most of the session in his No. 8 Gallagher Honda.

The session ran without any red flags although a couple cars ran into the runoff area (Dixon, Kanaan, Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin were captured by the cameras).

Times are below. Second practice is LIVE on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App (stream link here) from 2 p.m. PT and local time, and 5 p.m. ET.

NTT Data to sponsor IndyCar’s Scott Dixon at Long Beach

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) NTT Data will sponsor four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon this weekend at Long Beach.

Chip Ganassi Racing is still looking for a full-time sponsor for the series’ most decorated driver. Target ended its 27-year sponsorship of the team at the end of last season.

NTT Data is in its fifth season with Ganassi, and is the primary sponsor for Tony Kanaan. The company will be on both Dixon and Kanaan’s cars for Sunday’s race.

NTT Data will also be an associate sponsor for Dixon at Phoenix and Indianapolis.

Ganassi team president Steve Lauletta praised NTT Data for increasing its role in IndyCar, and for stepping up in key markets for the company. But he noted the team is still “focused on locking in a full-time partner” for Dixon.