MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the four-time champion, Scott Dixon. Eternally consistent as usual, but a couple missed opportunities stood out to cost Dixon a fifth title, in a year where he was Honda’s firmest title contender after a big switch preseason.
Scott Dixon, No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
- 2016: 6th Place, 2 Wins, 2 Poles, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 268 Laps Led, 6.2 Avg. Start, 9.8 Avg. Finish
- 2017: 3rd Place, 1 Win, 1 Pole, 7 Podiums, 10 Top-5, 16 Top-10, 131 Laps Led, 5.5 Avg. Start, 6.3 Avg. Finish
Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that when stats such as “one win, one pole” are announced you’re shocked the numbers are that low, because it’s so abnormal. And indeed, 2017 marked the first time since 2005 Dixon didn’t win multiple races in a year. Order was restored in the galaxy otherwise with Dixon back in the top three in points after a rare “off year” in 2016 when he finished sixth, and finished in the top-10 in every race but one.
That Dixon was as excellent as he was spoke almost entirely to his No. 9 Ganassi team, working in tandem with longtime strategist Mike Hull and in particular engineers Chris Simmons and Kate Gundlach, the latter of whom was moved over from Charlie Kimball’s No. 83 car at the start of the year. They extrapolated the most out of the Honda kit in a year when aero kits were frozen, and Dixon put the car in the best possible position by making all nine Firestone Fast Six sessions and averaging an even better grid position this year with arguably a worse kit. That was phenomenal.
Of course, Dixon would point to a handful of key lost opportunities that cost him key points. The most obvious and glaring came when Jay Howard hit him in the Indianapolis 500. The contact launched him into a scary, airborne accident that he was lucky to escape from with only minor injuries. That meant he’d only score 11 race points in a double points race. Qualifying on pole netted him 42 points. On the whole, Dixon lost the title by just 21 points.
There were other moments of lost chances. St. Petersburg saw Dixon among others caught out by a caution, and he finished third there behind Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud on off-sequence strategies. Texas saw a likely top-five erased after contact with Takuma Sato, which saw Dixon more frustrated there than he was after the bizarre Taco Bell robbery and his aerial accident in Indianapolis. Additionally, the post-Road America stretch from Iowa to Pocono saw four finishes in the top-10 but outside the top-five, and Dixon lost points to Team Penske’s four drivers there.
His one win, at Road America, came in dramatic and spectacular fashion following an outside overtake of Josef Newgarden at Turn 1 – albeit on the right Firestone tires – and toppled Team Penske’s quartet at the knees when they had the measure of him on pace all weekend. It was his first win at the iconic road course in central Wisconsin.
While Team Penske had four title contenders all year, Dixon was Ganassi’s – and Honda’s – best bet throughout. That he achieved what he did in a big year of change for the team was the latest chapter written in his legendary career, even if it came up marginally short of a fifth championship.