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.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)