Scott Dixon ready to claim elusive St. Petersburg win

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Scott Dixon has achieved legendary status in IndyCar history with five NTT IndyCar Series championships, a win in the 2008 Indianapolis 500 and 44 total victories in his career to rank him third on the all-time list.

But he has never won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

It’s hard to believe that a race driver that has been so good for so long has never won on the streets of St. Petersburg in the annual season-opening race.

That is one of Dixon’s motivations as he enters his 19thseason of IndyCar (18th with Chip Ganassi Racing).

“We’re trying to win here at St. Pete,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “It’s one of the tracks we haven’t been able to nail down as a win yet. We’re excited to be here. It’s a great place to kick off the season. The city really embraces the race. I can’t think of a better place to start off the year.”

Ironically, Dixon has some good runs at St. Pete, including three second-place finishes, a third-place finish in 2017, a fourth-place finish in 2014 and a fifth in 2013.

Last year, he started ninth and finished sixth in a race that had a wild finish with Sebastien Bourdais, the surprise winner for the second year in a row.

So, why hasn’t Dixon broken into victory lane at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course?

“It hasn’t been bad luck,” Dixon said. “There have been years where we had the speed to do it and years I’ve been leading, or we crashed or missed on strategy. You have tracks like that. For many years, Long Beach was like that for me, too. We led a lot of laps, came up short and finally got to that top step. It’s like that here.

“We’re here this year, and the goal is to finally get on that top step.”

Dixon has several major objectives he wants to achieve in 2019. Of his five career championships, he has never won the title in back-to-back seasons. There is also another Indianapolis 500 victory to chase. That would put him in an elite category of drivers who have won the Indy 500 more than once.

“You always dream big and hope to win these championships,” Dixon said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If you are not doing that, you are probably doing something wrong and should probably look at something else.

“The reason I got into this sport was to win races and win championships. But it takes a lot. It takes partnerships. It takes the team you are with. I’ve been very lucky to be with the best in the business.”

Dixon understands how to win championships, and that is to completely understand the car in any given race. If he can win the race, Dixon will take full advantage. But if the car isn’t the best on the track, he will get the best possible finish out of it without risking a poor result.

“It’s part of Chip Ganassi’s pep talk,” Dixon said. “We are here to win the race, but if you can’t win the race, finish second. Or, if you can’t finish second, finish third. When you finish fifth or sixth, it might have been a great comeback. Consistency is a key and a lot of that is due to the team. It’s the mindset that we have.

“The grip that Chip Ganassi has on the team is very unique. It’s a never-give-up lifestyle and that spreads to everybody.”

At 38, Dixon still has the burning desire to win that he did when he was a teenager arriving in the United States from New Zealand in the late 1990s. In many ways, the driver that has been so good, for so long is still in the prime of his career.

But there are some eager young drivers from the United States ready to take over the series including 27-year-old Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport and 28-year-old Josef Newgarden of Team Penske.

Rossi has won the 100thIndianapolis 500 in 2016. Newgarden won the NTT IndyCar Series championship in 2017.

“Rossi and Newgarden are very strong, Dixon said. “They are great competitors. They are fierce competitors on fantastic teams. But each year, it has changed a little bit. When Simon Pagenaud went to Penske, he dominated. Will Power, too. You could name off 10 names that can win championships and I don’t single out one or two people.”

It’s time for another season of the NTT IndyCar Series, and the five-time championship can’t wait to get it started.

“There is a lot of built up emotion over the offseason and we see that on the track,” Dixon said. “St. Pete is one of the most exciting races. It’s a fantastic layout for some great racing, but you also see cars getting together here and there, a couple of crashes and people testing the limit.

“Everyone is pumped, man. We’re getting the season kicked off.”

Here’s the reason Bill Murray is on Oriol Servia’s Indy 500 helmet

Shawn Gritzmacher/IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – The funnyman who inspired Oriol Servia’s helmet for the Indianapolis 500 might be unaware of its existence, but he probably would appreciation the reaction it draws.

“Every person that sees my helmet, the first thing they do is laugh,” Servia said. “So Bill Murray has this effect.”

Yes, he does, which is precisely why the Spaniard has a tribute to Murray’s “I Want You” pose from “Stripes”, the classic 1981 screwball comedy that helped catapult the actor to stardom.

Inspiration struck Servia while he was on a flight last year and watching “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man,” a documentary about the actor’s legendary impromptu appearances (playing kickball, attending wedding parties, making drinks) in the everyday lives of normal Americans.

“I thought like, “Look at this guy!” He’s interesting,” said Servia, a film buff who had seen many of Murray’s movies. “He knows every time he goes (out in public), everyone goes ‘Oh! Bill Murray!’ And instead of getting upset, he actually turns it around and shows up at places to make people happy. That’s really what he does.”

Servia called Troy Lee, a California-based artist who designs and paints many drivers’ helmets, with his idea. Lee naturally began “laughing his ass off” before agreeing to take a crack.

“I thought, ‘Why not make people laugh?’ I’m at the venue that venue holds 400,000 people or whatever,” Servia said. “So why not spread it around?”

Murray would approve … that is, if he knows about it. Servia made sure a photo of the helmet was relayed through a friend who knows the actor’s brother

“I hope he doesn’t take it as I’m using his image rights without permission,” Servia said with a laugh. “I’m not selling anything. I won’t even sell the helmet.”

Servia does have a long history with using his helmet as a creative platform, whether it’s a famous self-portrait by artist Salvador Dali or a flag to support Catalonian independence in his native country. (He discussed his connection to Dali during a recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast.)

He also paid proper homage to his new helmet design during a media appearance Tuesday in Chicago, visiting the Billy Goat Tavern that was immortalized during a “Saturday Night Live” sketch with Murray (who is a Chicago native like Servia’s wife, Jackie).

Of course, there would be a perfect way Sunday to honor the “Ghostbusters” star who scored one of the biggest upsets in history by defeating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

“I hope I’m in the winner’s circle,” the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver said. “And I hope he appears! That’d be amazing, right?”