Dixon passes Bobby Unser for fifth on all-time list with 36th IndyCar win

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Bobby Unser was honored Thursday night at the annual Road Racing Drivers’ Club dinner in downtown Long Beach.

On Sunday, Unser’s career record was acknowledged – and then eclipsed – by Scott Dixon in the 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The New Zealander won his 36th career race in North American open-wheel racing, dating to 2001 when he won his first at Nazareth Speedway, then driving for PacWest Racing, in CART.

Dixon, who remains more focused on the present in the Verizon IndyCar Series rather than reflecting on his own place in history, downplayed his achievement in the immediate aftermath in victory lane.

“Stats are stats. Hopefully someday you can look back when you’re done with racing and be happy with it,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast in victory lane.

“For me to be in that group of names means a lot. They were my heroes and people I looked up to and still feel thankful to have the around me, the racing community. We’re going to keep digging and hopefully we can add to those.”

Unser hailed Dixon’s achievement in a quote released to the media shortly after the race.

“Long Beach is never an easy place to win, and Scott Dixon did a great job today and so did his pit crew to get him out front. Racing is a team effort and both Scott and his crew earned the win, my congratulations to them.  Scott is a smart, smooth driver and once again proved it,” Unser said.

“Scott Dixon has a big, big abundance of talent and he has proven it over the years – he wins driving on any type of course he races his Indy car on. Scott wins on ovals, big and small; street courses and road courses.  I remember last year he came from dead last to win at Mid-Ohio. Scott Dixon has talent and skill and will win races for years and years to come.  He is always really fun to watch, for sure.  Congrats on earning your 36th career Indy car win today Scott – keep up the impressive driving.”

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.