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Scott Dixon: Lot of ground to make up — and not a lot of time to do it in

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With four races remaining on the schedule, Scott Dixon knows it’s go time if he hopes to repeat last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Last year at this time, Dixon was closing in on Juan Pablo Montoya, who led the entire season until the finale at Sonoma, where Dixon doubled-up with both the race win and the series championship, his fourth.

But this year, things are a bit more formidable and challenging for the driver of the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Target Chevrolet.

Dixon finds himself tied for fifth in the points with fellow series veteran Tony Kanaan, both drivers with 357 points each.

And way ahead of both of them is points leader Simon Pagenaud, who has amassed not only a series-leading four wins but also six poles and 484 points.

In other words, Dixon and Kanaan must make up a 127-point shortfall to just catch Pagenaud – and that doesn’t count how many more points the French driver will continue to amass in the final four races, starting with Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

Pocono has been a good track for Dixon. In the three years the IndyCar clan has raced on the 2.5-mile “tricky triangle,” Dixon won the inaugural event there in 2013, finished fifth in 2014 and ninth in last season’s race.

But Dixon has also struggled of late. In the last six races, he’s fallen from second place to a tie for fifth, with good finishes of fifth (Belle Isle 2), third (Iowa) and eighth (Toronto) offset by disappointing finishes of 19th (Belle Isle 1), and a pair of last-place finishes (22nd place at each) at Road America (engine) and the most recent race nearly two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio (mechanical problems)

Dixon, who has just one win and three podium finishes thus far this season — compared to three wins and four podium finishes last year — knows what he needs to do and what he’s up against Sunday.

“This is one of the toughest oval style tracks you’re ever going to encounter,” Dixon said. “It’s the ‘Tricky Triangle’ so that really sums it up.

“For us in 2013 it was a great moment to bring back open-wheel racing to Pocono with a win and a 1-2-3 finish (along with fellow teammates Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti, respectively).

“You have to put a lot of hard work into getting everything right on this track. Nothing is a given here. While we’ve kind of struggled there the past two races, we know what we need to do to be successful, so hopefully we can get it turned around for this time around.”

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INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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