INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owen
INDYCAR Photo by John Cote

Scott Dixon has ‘to race for wins’ starting at Toronto

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TORONTO – Scott Dixon’s mission is clear in regard to the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

Although the five-time IndyCar Series champion is fourth in points, Dixon is 106 points behind championship points leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske. With just seven races remaining in the season, Dixon is taking a “Win or else” attitude when it comes to the battle for the championship.

“I think the effect for us is we have to race for wins now,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There is no other way to try and rebound on this championship, especially when the likes of Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi have been running so well at every configuration, too.

“We definitely have to step it up.”

Dixon heads into this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto as the defending winner after he started second and led 49 laps in the 85-lap street race in 2018. It was this third win in Toronto in 14 IndyCar Series starts, including two seasons in CART in 2001 and 2002.

Watch the Honda Indy Toronto on NBCSN July 14 at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

Dixon is arriving at Toronto at full speed after his brilliant display of racing at Road America on June 23. He was involved in a first-lap incident that saw him spin off course. When he returned to the track, he was 10 seconds behind the entire field.

In a contest that ran green flag for the entire distance, Dixon was able to race his way to a fifth-place finish.

Imagine what Dixon could have done without the first-lap spin-out.

“Could have, should have, would have, right?” Dixon said. “Visually, it could have been an easy podium. Honestly, it’s hard to get into a full-on battle at the front.

“It was a good day for us considering what happened. But it doesn’t mean much to talk about what could have been a possibility. It was frustrating for what happened. For us generally it was a decent points day.”

Toronto is one of Dixon’s best street courses. The five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion has a great knack for that track.

“I think our track record has been pretty good there,” Dixon admitted. “The series has moved on a lot from last season. The competition is definitely tighter and more difficult. We need to get more speed in the car, nicer to drive.

“We had good cars at Road America, but it was hard to piece a good lap together for me. Felix (Rosenqvist, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate) was able to do it a little bit more often in some of the sessions. The split times were decent, but I really couldn’t get it together in qualifying.

“There’s a lot of things in the works that hopefully help us. But really, as usual, it’s the results that really talk. We’ll leave it to that.”

It’s the results that are going to get Dixon back into contention for a potential sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship. The 45-time IndyCar Series race winner knows that racing for points, won’t get him back to the front.

From this point forward, he has to “win or else.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”