‘I let down so many people’: Scott Dixon still wrestling with bitter loss in 106th Indy 500

Scott Dixon Indy mistake
Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Network
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INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon remained dejected Monday night about the mistake that crushed his hopes of a victory when he exceeded the pit lane speed limit by 1 mph on his final stop in the 106th Indy 500.

“What makes it so hard for me is I let down so many people,” Dixon said during the Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration at the JW Marriott Hotel. “The saving grace was Marcus winning that and making it successful.”

Marcus Ericsson, Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, was feted for his victory in Sunday’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing, earning $3.1 million from a record purse of $16 million. A huge contingent of Chip Ganassi Racing’s 160 employees (along with many family and friends) gathered Monday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for celebratory photo ops around the track.

But while the team could revel in its success, it still was hard to ignore the effect of the latest Indy 500 disappointment for Dixon.

He started from the Indy 500 pole position for the fifth time and led a race-high 95 of 200 laps, becoming the all-time lap leader in Indianapolis 500 history. But after controlling much of the race, his hopes of a second Indy 500 victory were dashed after serving a drive-through penalty for the Lap 175 speeding violation.

It was the fourth consecutive time (and second consecutive year) that Dixon had started first without winning. He finished 21st and collected a check for $707,000 after arriving late to Monday night’s ceremony.

The six-time IndyCar Series champion notably skipped the red carpet area where the media interviewed drivers before the formal dinner and program. As salads were being served, there was still no sign of Dixon. An Indianapolis Motor Speedway employee tried texting Dixon but did not get a reply.

The Victory Celebration was televised by NBC affiliate WTHR-TV in Indianapolis and streamed on Peacock. Each Indianapolis 500 driver is called to the podium for a brief interview by emcees Lindsey Czarniak or Dave Calabro, who spoke with Dixon.

“My goodness, my heart feels for you,” Calabro said. “I woke up this morning thinking about you. You led 95 laps. You and Alex Palou were just dialed in, having fun, cruising along, Sunday drive. Did it feel like that?”

A weary Dixon took a deep breath and said, “You can’t image how I feel, mate.

“It was a tough pill to swallow and something I didn’t expect, honestly,” Dixon continued. “It was a real bummer. It was really close. Looking back at what really happened makes it even worse.”

Dixon seemed to be shouldering the blame for Sunday’s outcome after Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi Racing managing director and Dixon’s race strategist, called one of his best races yet at the Indianapolis 500.

Dixon and Hull have worked together for more than 20 years and compiled six NTT IndyCar Series championships and 50 of Dixon’s 51 career victories, including the 2008 Indy 500.

Dixon has struggled to close out races at the Brickyard since then with his team often leaving the driver on the back foot. But Sunday’s execution was flawless by the crew, which employed some shrewd tactical maneuvering that helped Dixon catch a few breaks.

His No. 9 PNC Bank Honda was so good, he often ran at 90 percent throttle. He gave up the lead willingly to conserve fuel, knowing he easily could retake first. During the second-to-last stint, Dixon was able to build a significant gap as the team simulated the pace needed for the last fuel run.

Always known for his mastery of fuel conservation, Dixon was able to match the roughly 4.5 miles per gallon that those in traffic were getting even while he was leading the race. A car typically uses more fuel in the lead than when drafting off a car in front.

Saving on both fuel and pace with ease, it was all going well for Dixon until his final stop when he made the critical error — perhaps because he still was thinking about having lost time and position to Pato O’Ward on the previous stop. Dixon was slower on the in-lap to the pits because he got held up by traffic.

Entering too fast for his final stop, Dixon hit the brakes and smoked the rear tires to get under the pit lane speed limit.

By then, it was too late.

After Race Control called the penalty, Dixon screamed into the radio, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

On Monday night, Dixon was asked if he knew his car was over the speed limit.

“I didn’t actually think it was over, but obviously it’s a system that doesn’t lie,” Dixon said. “With the success we’ve had through the race on so many different levels and coming down to that closing point, you are trying to make the most of it.

“I’m so happy that Marcus Ericsson won. If a Ganassi driver didn’t win, I was going to take that loss even harder. Massive congratulations to him and Chip Ganassi. It’s just great they got it.”

Dixon became the all-time lap leader in Indianapolis 500 history, surpassing both Ralph De Palma and the late four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser in Sunday’s race.

“The only lap you need to lead is the last one,” Dixon said. “I’ve still got plenty to work on but it’s with one of the greatest teams in the sport’s history and working with the best in the business that has created that. It’s never one person, it’s hundreds of small details and the people that we get to work with that make this possible.”

Dixon proved he remains a team player and was proud of Ericsson winning the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in his career. Dixon knows that feeling from when he won the 2008 Indianapolis 500.

But since that lone victory, Dixon continues to be heartbroken in his bid for a second Indy 500 win.

Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan, who led eight of his first 11 Indy 500 starts before finally winning the race in 2013, can relate to Dixon’s recent frustration.

“I feel extremely bad for him,” Kanaan said Sunday. “He’s a dear friend of mine. I know how bad he’s feeling. That’s the kind of thing that will haunt you quite a bit for a little bit. You’re going to wake up in the morning.

“It’s one thing when something out of your control happens, but when we as drivers make a mistake, it’s pretty hard. But knowing who he is, I hate to say it, it’s only going to make him better.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500