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.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.