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Vettel staying optimistic in Abu Dhabi despite Mercedes pole

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Sebastian Vettel remains optimistic he can get in the fight for victory in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix despite trailing Mercedes Formula 1 drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in qualifying at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Mercedes picked up its 15th pole position of the season on Saturday as Bottas edged out Hamilton in a close-fought Q3 session, leaving Vettel half a second off the pace for Ferrari in P3.

After winning the last race in Brazil, Vettel hoped to close out the season with his first set of back-to-back victories in over four years, but is not giving up just yet.

“We tried everything,” Vettel said after qualifying. “I think the balance of the car was good all weekend. We trimmed it in the right way. Practice this morning was a bit tricky but qualifying really came together, so I’m quite happy with that.

“The gap is big but also it’s a long lap, so naturally the gaps are a bit more spread. I think in the race we usually get a little bit closer.

“Qualifying we’ve seen all year that we’ve never had the car to put half a second between us and somebody else.

“For the race I’m fairly optimistic. I think yesterday was good, we tried some stuff, so we’ll see how close we get tomorrow.

“On overtaking, it’s not the easiest one but it’s not impossible, so let’s see what we can do.”

While Vettel may have little more than securing P2 in the drivers’ championship up for grabs in Abu Dhabi, the German stressed the importance of laying foundations for next year by signing off with a victory.

“I think the last race is important. Obviously if you’re not in the fight for the championship, it still is important to set things up for the winter, just give a boost to the whole factory,” Vettel said.

“So let’s see what we do. I don’t believe that the result tomorrow determines next year – but for sure a good result always helps you, gives everyone a boost over the winter, so we try our best.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

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