INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon has said the Indy 500 doesn’t owe him anything; that he can accept the fact that he is one of greatest drivers in the race’s history but has just one victory to show for his efforts.
After Sunday’s 106th Indianapolis 500, the five-time pole-sitter and six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion may want to rethink that comment.
Entering the race, Dixon had found almost every way imaginable to not win the biggest race of the year, with the exception of his long victory in 2008.
On Sunday, he found a new way to lose.
After starting on the pole and leading 95 of 200 laps, Dixon came onto pit lane as the leader, to make his final pit stop that would take him to an apparent second Indy 500 victory. But when he entered pit road, he had to get on his brakes hard because he came in too fast.
IndyCar Race Control issued a pit lane speeding violation, and the most dominant driver in the field was assessed a drive-through penalty.
Scott Dixon locks up on his way into the pits and gets a pit lane speeding violation. #indy500
— #Indy500 on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 29, 2022
Inside the cockpit, Dixon was livid. He had driven a flawless race up to that point and he knew his shot at victory had disappeared because of a penalty.
In pit lane, his crew members dropped their heads in disbelief. His wife, Emma, was distraught, telling NBC Sports that she was “gutted” by the call.
She then said, stopping the race for a red flag after Jimmie Johnson’s hard crash in Turn 2 with five laps to go was like adding “salt to Scott’s wounds for what they did to him in 2020.”
In that race, Dixon was running behind Takuma Sato, realizing the driver from Tokyo was about to run out of fuel in the final four laps of the race. When Spencer Pigot pounded the end of the pit road attenuator with five laps to go, IndyCar Race Control decided to let the race finish under yellow.
That allowed Sato to conserve his fuel and make it to the checkered flag, and there was no way Dixon could advance past the leader.
In Sunday’s 106th Indianapolis 500 however, Race Control stopped the race for 10 minutes with the red flag. Once Johnson’s damaged car had been removed from the track, that set up essentially a “green-white-checkered” flag finish.
IndyCar does not have an “overtime” rule like NASCAR. Inside the cockpit of the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, it gave Dixon even more time to steam over the penalty.
Team owner Chip Ganassi left the pit area during the red flag to walk up to another one of his driver’s pits. It was Marcus Ericsson, the leader at the time of the red flag. He was stopped on the end of pit road directly ahead of Pato O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
Ericsson, the former Formula One driver from Sweden, was able to win his first Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, using a brilliant strategy on the restart to break the draft that would have made it easy for O’Ward to pass down the front straightaway.
Ericsson’s snake-like moves were successful as he built a 3-second lead over the 23-year-old driver from Monterrey, Mexico, and was heading to the checkered flag before Sage Karem’s Chevrolet slammed into the Turn 2 wall.
By then, Ericsson and O’Ward were entering the fourth turn, but IndyCar threw the yellow flag, and the race ended under caution with the Chip Ganassi Racing driver the winner.
Dixon finished 21st.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 30, 2022
In the No. 9 pit, Dixon’s race strategist, Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull, had a very subdued celebration. A Ganassi driver had won the race, but it wasn’t Dixon, who had his heart ripped out of chest and waved in his face by the cruelty that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I wouldn’t say Marcus saved the day, he had a good car all day,” Hull told NBCSports.com. “All five of our cars were excellent race cars. Practice and qualifying proved that.
“But Marcus knows how to win. He won it today for 160 people in our building.”
The winner could have just as easily been Dixon, who dominated the race, had a car that could take the lead at will, was rarely tested on the track, and had a flawless strategy.
That was before it vanished with the pit road speeding penalty.
“As for Scott, we called a great race, he drove a great race and we do things together as a team,” Hull said. “We support each other, and we’ll go on to the next event. People always say that, but that’s how it is in racing.
“I think we had five good race cars and any one of the five like Marcus just proved, we could win this race.
“I’ve been with Scott Dixon for 20 years. We’ve been through the best of times and times that weren’t so great. We called a great race today and he drove a great race today and that is what we are going to look at going forward.”
Said Michael Cannon, Dixon’s engineer: “Scott Dixon is perfection personified. It’s one of those things. We were right where we wanted to be. The rules are the rules. At the end of the day, we try again next year. That’s what we do every time.”
The Indianapolis 500 is like the girlfriend in a toxic relationship a man can’t get out of his mind, no matter how badly she treats him. She gives the suitor just enough attention to get his hopes up, only to kick him once again to the curb with an evil laugh.
In Dixon’s case, it’s five Indy 500 poles, the second-most in the history of the race behind Rick Mears’ record of six.
It’s also an Indianapolis 500 record for career laps led with 665 breaking the previous record of 644 by four-time winner Al Unser. Dixon broke Unser’s record by leading Lap 133 and passed both second-place Ralph De Palma (612) and Unser (644) in Sunday’s race.
It’s also three second-place finishes, including two to Dario Franchitti in 2007 and 2012 and to Sato in 2020. All three of those second-place finishes, the race ended under caution.
Dixon has eight top-five finishes in 20 career starts in the Indianapolis 500.
All of these near-misses and heartbreaks are close to the surface of Dixon, his wife, his agent, former driver Stefan Johansson, and the many crew members that view the driver more as a great friend and mentor than a co-worker.
This loss hurt — and deeply to the driver who climbed out of his car and hugged his wife with tears in his eyes.
Scott Dixon is a stand-up guy. The type of individual that has strong character and always does the right thing. Fellow driver Alexander Rossi once said Scott Dixon is the man every driver in the series measures themselves both on and off the race track.
Scott Dixon is a great friend, a terrific husband to Emma and a wonderful father to daughters Poppy, Tilly, and son Kit. His friends are more like members of his family, and he represents all that is great in this sport of INDYCAR racing.
But for some reason, the Indianapolis 500 likes to test his inner strength with one crushing disappointment after another.
Sunday was just one more slap in the face.
“It’s heartbreaking to be honest,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “It must have been very close. I came into the pits and had to lock the rears. I knew it would be very close. Maybe 1 mile an hour over or something. It’s frustrating. The car was really good all day. It had great speed and the team did an amazing job on strategy.
“I just messed up.”
Dixon said he was super happy for Ericsson, and he had a car that deserved to win.
“If things went smoothly, we would have been in a fight at the end, but obviously not,” Dixon said. “This one really hurts.”
Johansson is a former Formula One driver and a former CART and Indianapolis 500 driver who serves as Dixon’s agent. He also had tears in his eyes when he hugged the driver after the race.
“I frankly don’t know the details at all,” Johansson told NBC Sports on pit lane after the Indy 500. “If it’s a speed violation, it’s a speed violation.
“Poor Scott, I just feel terrible. He dominated the race all day then something like that happened.
“This place is just brutal. It really is. It’s the hardest race to win and the easiest race to win. It just depends on where you are. It’s always something different here.”
Cool postrace-Indy 500 photo here.
As gutting as the finish had to be for @scottdixon9, it's nice to see the smile. (And also no surprise that it comes in a convo with the always upbeat @ConorDaly22, who might be inviting Dixon to his late-night EDM rave in downtown Indy later.) https://t.co/bGaE7kterK
— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) May 29, 2022
Johansson said the red flag was the right thing to do, but “I wish they had done that in 2020.
“Of all of Scott’s misses, this one hurts the most,” Johansson said. “As races go by, it isn’t easy to dominate these races.
“He has been the class of the field and has nothing but disappointment to show for it.”
Nothing except pain, heartbreak, sadness, and bitter, bitter disappointment for one of the greatest drivers in Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar history.