Dixon still winless at St. Pete, ‘will keep on digging’ for it

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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – As Scott Dixon walked off pit lane on his way to the podium and the postrace festivities on a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon, he confided with NBC Sports.com that there were several reasons to have mixed emotions with his outcome.

Dixon finished second in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – the 2019 season opener for the NTT IndyCar Series. It remains a race Dixon has never won in his career, but the result gives him a tremendous start on the season championship.

“It’s not what we ultimately wanted,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com “You have to take the points. It would have been nice to get the win here, finally, but we have come up short a few times now and we will keep on digging.”

Dixon finished 2.8998-seconds behind Team Penske rival Josef Newgarden in Sunday’s 110-lap street race. Dixon started fourth and never got his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda to the lead, but he challenged Newgarden toward the end as the margin between the two ebbed and flowed.

Dixon had another reason to take away a positive from Sunday’s race as rookie teammate Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden finished fourth in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda after putting on quite a show on the track. He raced into second place in the first lap at the start. Thirteen laps later, Rosenqvist made a spectacular pass for the lead in Turn One, getting ahead of Will Power’s Chevrolet as both cars wiggled slightly.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Dixon said of the rookie’s performance in his IndyCar debut. “I knew he was going to be aggressive at the start. It was cool to see that. He showed Will Power and Josef Newgarden what’s up, and I had a chuckle with that. He’s fast, man, he has a lot of experience of a young guy. He is a smart kid. He’s going to go a long way.

“I knew he was going to go for it. I’m surprised he didn’t go for the lead in the first corner. But that’s what you have to do. You have to be aggressive and you have to go after it.

“And he did.”

Rosenqvist would lead three times for 31 laps before finishing fourth behind Power.

It’s important to Dixon that he have a strong teammate to benefit the entire operation. The No. 10 car has just one victory since Dario Franchitti won the 2012 Indianapolis 500. That lone win came from Tony Kanaan at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California in 2014.

Kanaan never won again for Ganassi and left the team at the end of 2017. Ed Jones took over the No. 10 car in 2018 and was winless.

The combination of 38-year-old veteran Dixon and 27-year-old rookie Rosenqvist may give team owner Chip Ganassi his best combination of drivers since Dixon and Franchitti from 2009-2013.

“We’re glad to be back on the sharp end of the grid,” Ganassi told NBC Sports.com.

Ganassi calls the race strategy for Rosenqvist and the No. 10 car while the team’s managing director, Mike Hull, is in charge of Dixon’s operation.

“Mike Hull did a good job with his car,” Ganassi continued. “We had a good day.”

The addition of a fast teammate can be a tremendous asset in Dixon’s quest for a sixth IndyCar Series championship. During Dixon’s last two title years in 2015 and 2018, he did it without the help of a teammate serving as his “wingman” that could run up front. Team Penske had that with drivers Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and, until 2017, Helio Castroneves.

It was one more “team” car that Dixon had to contend with on the racetrack in the closing stages of a championship. It worked for Team Penske with Power winning the championship in 2014, Pagenaud in 2016 and Newgarden in 2017.

Dixon had to fend off the competition on his own in 2015 and 2017 as the No. 10 car was mired deep in the pack in the closing races.

He is hopeful Rosenqvist can help his quest but also remains realistic.

“We’re at race one — let’s see where that goes,” Dixon said. “It’s awesome to work with someone so close, but it’s no surprise. I don’t think anyone is surprised. He has raced a lot of stuff and been fast in everything that he is raced.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a strong year for both the 9 and the 10.”

So far, Dixon and Rosenqvist have worked well as teammates, but it’s very early days for these two.

“It’s not like Scott is telling me everything,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports.com. “He is a competitor and a gentleman. If I ask him something, he will always be honest, and I have the same approach as him. We have a good relationship as teammates. We have no big ego. We know if we both work in the same direction it will be best for most.

“I’ve always been on the philosophy if someone asks you and you don’t want to tell him, then you are afraid. But if you are confident in yourself, you can tell everyone what you are doing, but they won’t be able to beat you; they can always copy you.

“You will always be one step ahead.

“I tell everybody everything.”

Rosenqvist will take his “open book” philosophy into his dealings with his teammate. Dixon is considered one of the best “teammates” in the IndyCar paddock. Former teammates such as the late Dan Wheldon, Franchitti, Kanaan and Jones entered Chip Ganassi Racing as friendly rivals and ultimately became close friends with Dixon.

The dynamic between the two current teammates has yet to be determined.

“That’s a little hard to compare, to be honest,” Dixon said. “Felix has worked with the team for two or three years now with open tests we’ve done with him as a rookie. The guy has got a ton of experience in so many different cars, so it’s been really refreshing, actually, to not be in the same ecosystem and thinking of the same things. It’s kind of thinking outside the box which has been really refreshing.

“He’s a strong guy, very committed and obviously very talented and he’s going to be a hell of a fight for the whole year, and it’s nice to be working with somebody really close as far as on the speed side.”

On the track, Dixon didn’t get the results he wanted, but second place matched his best finish for this event.

“I felt our cars were strong for the first 15, 20 laps, especially on restarts, as well, but the last sort of five to ten, it flipped the other way and the Penske drivers had some really good speed,” Dixon said of the race. “I had some great battles out there. Lapped traffic was interesting, Will and I had a really tough fight in Turns one, two, and then all the way to three.

“I think strategy-wise and pit stops, it was a clean day for us. I think any of us got out front, as will said, had some really good pace, you would have been able to capitalize and Josef’s did that and their strategy, they were able to run and start on new (Firestone) Reds (softer, faster tire compound) and use Reds later. Their pace opened it up.

“It was an interesting day, and good points for us and hopefully we can keep maintaining that.”

View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!