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.”

Steinbrenner brings winning tradition to IndyCar Victory Lane

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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AUSTIN, Texas – Opening Day for the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball is Thursday against the hapless Baltimore Orioles. But the Steinbrenner family can already celebrate a big-time, major league victory in 2019.

George Michael Steinbrenner, IV is the 22-year-old son of Yankees co-owner and co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner. He is the grandson of the legendary Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose fiery tenure at the helm of the Yankees restored the team to the prestige and pride it continues to enjoy as the most successful professional sports franchise in the world.

Steinbrenner, IV, is co-owner of Harding Steinbrenner Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series and the youngest team owner in IndyCar history.

When his grandfather was ruling the Yankees, excellence wasn’t expected; it was demanded. Those are traits that define the Steinbrenner family.

On Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, young Steinbrenner became an IndyCar winner in just his third race in the series in the INDYCAR Classic. It was also historic as his driver, Colton Herta, became the youngest driver in history to win an IndyCar race at race at 18 years, 11 months and 25 days. Graham Rahal was 19 years 3 months and 2 days when he won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2008.

“Break up the Yankees” was a popular battle cry around baseball in the glory days of the boys in pinstripes, from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter and A-Rod.

What makes the latest Steinbrenner winner so stunning, is how quickly it happened.

“We didn’t think this was possible so soon,” Steinbrenner told NBC Sports.com from the team’s pit stand seconds after the checkered flag waved for Herta’s victory. “What a drive by Colton and what a job by the crew. They did everything they could to keep us ahead of the 2 car (Josef Newgarden) all day. Wow, I can’t believe it.”

Steinbrenner has the Yankees in his blood and DNA, but his passion has always been IndyCar racing. He was just 16 when he met then 12-year-old Herta at a Skip Barber race at Lime Rock, Connecticut. The two became friends and joined together to begin their climb to IndyCar.

“I interned at Bryan Herta Rallysport for the 2016 season, learning the top to bottom of how a race team operates during the week and during the weekend,” Steinbrenner recalled. “When Colton and I decided that we’d start this crazy journey together in Indy Lights, being able to partner with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights was huge. They’re a buttoned-down organization, do everything right. To be able to learn from the folks there was a huge jump-start, the perfect jump-start I could have hoped for, for INDYCAR ownership.”

For two years, they joined forces with team owner Michael Andretti in Indy Lights. Andretti helped broker a deal for Steinbrenner and Herta to step up to IndyCar by joining a team owned by Indianapolis paving company owner Mike Harding.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing was announced last summer with tremendous fanfare at Yankee Stadium before a New York Yankees game.

Andretti is still part of the operation as Andretti Technologies supplies engineering and crew support to Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

“None of this would have been possible without Michael Andretti,” Herta said. “I’d like to say thank you to Michael and his team. He elevated us to the top really quick and without them we wouldn’t be here.”

When Steinbrenner announced his goal of taking Herta to the IndyCar, it was a long-term commitment. Herta’s first victory at an 18-year-old could be the start of something great, beginning another winning tradition for the Steinbrenners.

“We’ve had a pretty good start here,” Steinbrenner said. “This is huge, to get this win off our belts. We showed the IndyCar world what we could do.”

Herta qualified fourth and raced his way to third in a race that Will Power dominated. The Team Penske driver led the first 45 laps from the pole while he was pursued by Alexander Rossi.

The two front-runners planned on being the last two drivers in the 24-car field to make their final pit stop.

That plan was foiled, however, when James Hinchcliffe’s Honda ran into the back of Felix Rosenqvist’s Honda, sending it into the barrier in Turn 20. That was the only caution in the 60-lap race. Power and Rossi would go from the top two to 14thand 15thafter making their pit stops.

Power’s race ended on pit lane when a broken half-shaft kept his car from engaging in gear and he went from first to worst in the 24-car field.

That put Herta in the lead under caution. Right behind him was the intimidating sight of the No. 2 Chevrolet driven by Team Penske’s 28-year-old Josef Newgarden, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion and the winner of the 2019 season-opener at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“We knew we got on the right side of the pit strategy and had the pace to stay ahead of two extremely fast guys behind us,” Steinbrenner said. “It was a matter of Colton staying out in front and nursing it home.”

When the green flag waved to restart the race with 10 laps left, the 18-year-old was calm and cool as he was able to get a great restart and pull away from Newgarden.

Back in the pit area, Steinbrenner stood on the timing stand in the pits alongside co-owner Mike Harding and team president and race strategist Brian Barnhart. Because COTA is a 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course, it takes a while to complete a lap. Herta had the fastest lap in the race on Lap 54 and it was 108.9853 seconds.

The long course added to the tension as the 60-lap race neared its conclusion.

Steinbrenner, who bears a resemblance to 1980s actor Fisher Stevens, remained cool on the timing stand.

When Herta’s Honda came out of Turn 20 on the final lap to the checkered flag, Steinbrenner could finally celebrate, pumping his fist in the air.

“I was very concerned,” Steinbrenner admitted. “Most of the guys in the paddock, you are concerned with in a situation like that, especially a former champion. It was nerve-racking.

“Wow. It’s a dream come true.”

Steinbrenner got his first win in IndyCar before the New York Yankees.

“Not too far apart, but a couple of days in front,” Steinbrenner laughed.

For a Steinbrenner, there are always more goals to achieve. Sunday’s first victory is like a “regular season” win to the Yankees. That team’s goal is to win the World Series.

Steinbrenner, IV’s goal is to win the biggest race in the world – the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26.

“I think there’s a pretty big race in May,” Steinbrenner said. “I think for us, that’s the next big goal.

“I grew up with two passions: baseball and racing. I thought my family had one pretty well covered. We’ll go and chase another one.”

When a Steinbrenner sets a goal, don’t bet against it.