NEWTON, Iowa – Scott Dixon and second half comebacks in the Verizon IndyCar Series are as ubiquitous as corn references at the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway.
Odd, then, that Iowa Speedway is one of only a handful of tracks where the driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet hasn’t won before.
But the winner of IndyCar’s only previous short oval race this season, on the 1-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway back in April, could use an encore of that outing to perform his usual second half comeback once more as he’ll start today’s race (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN) 90 points back of points leader Simon Pagenaud.
Dixon sits fourth in the standings, and needs to start making headway with seven races left if he’s to retain his 2015 crown and win his fifth series championship.
At 90 back, and starting 10th today, he’ll need to make up an average of 12.8 points per race, and also leapfrog Pagenaud’s two Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power in second and third.
“It has been a funny place, no doubt,” Dixon told NBC Sports of Iowa, where he’s one of four drivers to have started each of the nine Iowa races but only has one podium, a third place in 2011.
“We’ve been on the pole, led a lot of laps, but it’s been a race with a lot of issues. I’ve had the steering column lock up while leading. Last year, the CV joint broke. I’ve had the seat belts came undone. We’ve had engine failures. It’s been a strange race.
“It’s funny because I think the Ganassi cars are generally good, and we’re at the pointy end of the field. Two years ago we got trumped on tire strategy and ended 3-4 (with teammate Tony Kanaan a spot ahead) instead of 1-2.
“I enjoy this place. It’s fun and demanding. For an oval, it’s quite physically tough.”
It was also the race where despite the CV joint failure last year, his Ganassi team rallied to get him back out and gain the necessary one extra point that ultimately won him last year’s title.
Dixon said he’d have preferred the race to stay a Saturday night affair but understood the reasoning behind it moving to Sunday from a big picture viewpoint.
“It’s back to a day race… it’s interesting, because a lot of people would prefer Saturday night,” he said. “For TV though it’s important, and a logical choice. Sunday at 4 or 5 p.m. ET not going up against anyone is good, so the rating should benefit.”
Dixon will also benefit from his usual copious amount of seat time this weekend, back in the car after a rare weekend off, which actually threw him for a loop.
Before Road America, Dixon’s crazy travel schedule coming off the month of May at Indianapolis, then the Detroit doubleheader featured the weekend at Texas, his trip to Le Mans, a test at Watkins Glen and then Road America, before settling down with of all things, a wedding he attended still in Elkhart Lake. No race cars were involved, just wedding attire.
Yet the extended stay in Elkhart nearly didn’t happen. Dixon’s sports car teammate Ryan Briscoe – himself a story last weekend with wife Nicole’s surprise but welcome birth of new daughter Blake – was nearly sidelined from competition and had he been unable to return to Watkins Glen, Dixon was the standby driver for the team’s No. 67 Ford GT alongside Richard Westbrook. That in and of itself is surprising considering Ford GT development driver and Le Mans/WEC extra Billy Johnson was on site at Watkins Glen last weekend.
“I was in pretty good contact with him,” Dixon admitted. “If he didn’t make it back, then I’d be missing a wedding. But what a great outcome for him to have a baby Friday, then a race win on Sunday.”
Tentatively, Dixon is scheduled to race once more in the Ford GT at Petit Le Mans in October.
But first, he and the No. 9 team led by Mike Hull has the business of closing the gap to Pagenaud over the final seven races – and the engine issues sustained at Road America dented what was a good opportunity to chip away at it two weeks ago.
“He’s struck a bit of bad luck at Road America,” Dixon said. “You hate to use the word ‘lucky,’ but it’s been convenient for him where guys who could get on a roll have had a few hiccups.
“It’s been frustrating, because each weekend we wait for the flip to make inroads. It hasn’t worked out that way.
“It’s good to see Will (Power) get some speed back and bank good points. But we need to make this championship somewhat exciting… although I’m sure Pagenaud doesn’t want that!
“We started strong and have had great speed. But whether with mechanicals or silly stuff, it’s all been a bit odd.”
The frustration also seeps through given the fact it hasn’t just been Dixon who’s been strong but unlucky. Teammates Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton have also had their moments in the sun this year, but none consistent enough to mount a regular challenge.
If Dixon is to keep the title, he’ll need his three Chip Ganassi Racing teammates to provide ample support and take points off Team Penske’s quartet.
“We’ve all been good, but in a really frustrating way, we haven’t had too many conversions,” he said.
But, the metronomically calm, cool, consistent and incredibly talented Dixon is back in his natural habitat this weekend after his one off weekend, and seeks to end his run of relative bad luck.
“I think when you’re turning up to any track hitting ground running, everything’s been exciting,” he said. “So a weekend off felt strange! But it’s been a lot of seat time and I’m loving every second of it.”