Milestone win part of Scott Dixon’s latest IndyCar surge

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Scott Dixon is looking for just a bit more consistency from start to finish on race weekends, even if he hasn’t placed out of the top 5 in more than a month.

Imagine what Dixon could accomplish the rest of this IndyCar season once he really feels like he’s in a groove behind the wheel of the No. 9 Honda.

It’s the kind of mindset that has helped make Dixon a four-time series champion. He won his 42nd IndyCar race last weekend to pull into a tie for third with Michael Andretti on the career list behind only A.J. Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52).

“For me, still being deep in it right now, it’s something I hope to reflect on when I get out of the sport,” Dixon said. “But just being on the short list right now with Andretti and Foyt is pretty crazy when you really look back and take a step back.”

The 37-year-old driver from New Zealand feels like there is room for improvement, though.

“It’s been a little tricky,” Dixon said about his season so far. “We’ve had some really good speeds, but we’ve probably lacked a little bit on consistency.”

He points to a few mistakes in qualifying runs. A second-place finish at the IndyCar Grand Prix on May 12 came after starting 18th on the grid.

The 16-year IndyCar veteran followed with a third-place finish at the Indianapolis 500. Dixon took the checkered flag in the opening race last weekend at Belle Isle and finished fourth in the second race.

Dixon is second in the points race behind Indy 500 winner Will Power, with fresh momentum heading into each of the next two stops on the schedule: this weekend at Fort Worth and June 24 at Road America in Wisconsin.

“Yeah, the last 3-4 weeks we’ve made a lot of points, which is good to see,” Dixon said.

“But it’s time to knuckle down,” he added. “We’ve definitely got to make the most of these summer-month races and try to get some good points.”

Dixon is in his 17th season with Chip Ganassi Racing, the longest tenure for a driver in team history. Ganassi managing director Mike Hull likened the Detroit win to Dixon’s first victory with Ganassi at Homestead in 2003.

“What Scott does so well is that he represents the culture of Chip Ganassi Racing,” Hull said after Belle Isle. “It’s something that you’ll look back on and say, ‘Man, that was awesome to be a part of.’ But for today and now, we’re happy to come home with the win.”

This season brought a new set of adjustments for Dixon, with Ganassi dropping from four teams to two and 23-year-old Ed Jones joining the fold as his new teammate.

Dixon said the transition has been easy with Jones, who he describes as “super laid-back, a really good kid, a lot of fun to work with.”

Last week, Jones tied a career best by finishing third in the second race at Belle Isle. It seems like he’s putting any advice that he has received from Dixon to good use.

“Scott winning the race (Saturday) and then me on the podium … we’re just aiming to bring the team forward,” Jones said then.

One noticeable difference for Dixon related to the Ganassi changes is that it’s not as noisy at the trailers with former teammate Tony Kanaan now with A.J. Foyt Racing.

“I think the thing I’ve commented on the most is probably how quiet it’s been without TK. He’s a huge character and we had a ton of laughs with him around,” Dixon said.

He also liked the luxury of being able to study the volumes of data that came with having three teammates. It was especially helpful over longer, three-day weekends at road and street courses, or at Indianapolis, when there is more time to prepare.

Still, the adjustment to a two-car team seems to be going just fine for the steady Dixon.

“It’s just a different approach. I actually enjoyed the fact that you had so much stuff to look at, which has changed now some,” he said. “But yeah, I love the teammates I had for the last two, three, four years, and it’s a bit of a change now, but I’m really enjoying working with Ed.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.