Dixon hopes to advance from the worst Indy 500 start of his career

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INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon normally starts up front in the Indianapolis 500. He has started on the pole three times, including 2008 when he scored his only Indy 500 win.

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This year has been a different story for the five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion. He starts 18thin Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500, the worst of his career in the 500-Mile Race.

“We have been very average,” Dixon said.

He also experienced a mechanical problem on his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in Friday’s final day of practice on Carb Day.

Dixon told NBC Sports Saturday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the team found the mechanical issue and said it was a “mistake” on the setup. Dixon won’t get a chance to test the new setup until the green flag drops to start Sunday’s Indy 500 at 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time.

“Hopefully, we can fix it and have a much better day on Sunday,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “We were horrible. We think something mechanical was really off with the car. All in all, it was a pretty rough practice.

“The cars were freshly put together and sometimes when you put a fresh car together, you put something on their wrong. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Race Day looks like it is going to be cooler. Here, it’s more of a mental game.”

Dixon is starting his 17thIndianapolis 500 on the outside of Row 6. It gives him a different approach to the start of the race, than if he were starting further up front.

“You need to move up as quick as possible,” Dixon said. “The only concern is the risk it puts you in is at the start of the race. You really don’t want to be in an altercation at the start. Speed-wise, I think we can move forward as quickly as possible.

“Track temperature is the culprit right now. With the new surface that has been laid down, it attracts the heat. That is what we fight the most now because it affects the tire the most. I think it’s better for racing because you get a better reading of a good car winning, rather than all the cars running equal.”

Dixon believes his experience can help with the process, but he also believes a newcomer can bring a fresh attitude because they don’t know what to expect.

Race week is the most difficult for a driver in the Indy 500 field because they have a full week to talk about what they think they are going to do in the race.

Monday’s 2-1/2-hour practice session came in cool conditions with a high of 60. Friday’s “Carb Day” practice was near 90 degrees with high humidity.

INDYCAR Photo by Stephen KingDixon prefers hot weather better suits his style and race car.

“Our cars on hot days have been pretty good,” Dixon said. “The heat always magnifies bad things. The good cars are going to be better. Until we get to race day, you never really know.”

Dixon believes the winner needs to have a clean day. If that driver makes a mistake, it has to happen early in the race, so they have time to recover over 200 laps of hard racing.

It’s a team sport and with seven to nine pit stops, the team has to be on top of its game during the crucial time to refuel the car and put on new tires.

It’s all about execution.

“It’s impossible to get everything right in a 3-1/2-hour race, but that is what sets the winner apart in this race,” Dixon said. “We have a bigger window of changes to the car from last year, but it’s not giant.

“The good teams typically execute better. That doesn’t guarantee you anything, either.

“You need to find that ‘Golden Ticket’ you think is going to help you.”

Mario Andretti has been honored all month for the 50thAnniversary of his only Indianapolis 500 win in 1969. Andretti won four IndyCar Series championships and 52 races in his career.

Dixon is a five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion with 44 career victories.

In many ways, a good comparison could be made between those two drivers because both should have won the Indy 500 more times than once.

“I don’t think this place, or any place owes me anything,” Dixon said. “I feel very fortunate that we have won it once. Hey, if we didn’t get it right; we didn’t get it right. That’s our fault.

“I’ve stepped on my own feet a couple of times to make that worse. We have strategy-wise, too. There were a few we had a pretty clear run on it but didn’t get it done.

“I feel pretty fortunate we have won here once. It’s the same goal for everybody. We are here to try to win, unfortunately there are 32 others that want the same thing.

“It would be fine if it were just the 9 car running on Sunday, but that’s not the case.”

Eli Tomac’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

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