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Dixon’s championship reign may be over, but still wants to go out with a win

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For Scott Dixon, Saturday was a bittersweet day of sorts at Sonoma Raceway.

It officially marked the end of his one-year reign as 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champ. A new driver – either Simon Pagenaud or Will Power – will ascend to the IndyCar champion’s throne in Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Dixon came into Saturday’s qualifying round with high hopes and expectations that he could make the Firestone Fast Six. And things were looking that way until a mechanical issue cost him a top qualifying spot by a mere .003 of a second.

“We had some major vibration,” Dixon told NBCSN. “I thought I felt it on the black (tire) run and when we switched to the reds, it was really bad. I was really surprised we managed to scrape through there.

“All in all, I think in Q2 the car felt good, we’ve just been struggling with our grip all weekend.”

Sunday ends Scott Dixon’s reign as 2015 IndyCar champ, as well as his last race for Target, which is ending its IndyCar sponsorship after 27 seasons.

As if the vibration wasn’t bad enough, the competition made things worse. Still, Dixon managed to qualify seventh for Sunday’s race.

“The times were just so close,” he said. “The Verizon IndyCar Series right now, the competition is just so cutthroat. We missed by a little bit: .003 of a second, which would have gotten us into the Fast Six.

“But I think in a lot of ways, I’m fairly happy where we qualified considering where we started the weekend.”

Even though disappointed he didn’t make it into the top 6, Dixon in a way has history on his side for yet another potential win Sunday: his three previous wins at Sonoma have come from qualifying efforts of third, fifth and ninth (last year).

Plus he also has another bit of significant incentive: Sunday will mark his final day of racing with Target sponsorship. The company announced in late July that it was ending its IndyCar sponsorship, which began in 1990, after 27 seasons.

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Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.