Scott Dixon’s quest for a seventh IndyCar championship falls short in Laguna Seca


MONTEREY, California – Team Penske drivers finished first, second and fourth in this year’s NTT IndyCar Series championship. The only driver from another team in the top four was third-place finisher Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing.

That honor means nothing to Dixon.

The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion entered the weekend just 20 points behind championship leader Will Power. Dixon’s attitude was finishing second, third or fourth in the championship doesn’t interest him at all.

“We’ve been a part of a few of these,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “This is what we are in the business for. Two goals – win the Indianapolis 500 and win the IndyCar championship. That is what you aim for all season.

“All I care about is winning the championship. Second, third, fourth – whatever. Winning is what it’s all about.”

Entering the race 20 points out was a number that Dixon said would be “annoying” for a championship leader.

“The way I look at it, if you are the leader, 20 is kind of an annoying number,” Dixon explained. “It’s highly achievable. Thirty or 31 points up would have been a lot different. That makes your window a lot bigger. Twenty is an annoying spot.

“As the leader, you want to make it as least complicated as possible. At St. Pete in 2020, we only needed to finish ninth and we finished third. Both Josef and I charged through the field. He ended up winning the race and I did what I needed to do.

“You just have to go on and what will be, will be.

“The problem for Will is if the strategy flips or there is a mechanical issue, it’s hugely fair game. But with 30 points, it would have made it a different situation.

“Ultimately, we’ll find out in the race.”

Unfortunately for Dixon, he never got a chance to find out. Power started on the pole and earned one point toward the championship. As the race unfolded, Power’s clinching position dropped from third in the race to fifth.

With Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou winning the race by 30.3812 seconds over Josef Newgarden, who also entered the race 20 points behind, Dixon never had a chance to fight for the title. He started the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda in 13thposition and finished the race 12th.

“We were hoping for some different things in cautions, and how that was going to play out,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “Ultimately, our tire deg early on was not good enough. That definitely halted us.

“Later in the race, the car definitely came alive on the last two stints, but it was all too late by that point.”

Dixon finished third in the standings, 39 points away from what would have been a record-tying seventh NTT IndyCar Series championship.

Instead of Dixon, 42, winning the championship, it was Will Power, 41, of Team Penske that won his second IndyCar championship.

“I think his performance this year, he showed a different Will Power,” Dixon said. “That was good for him. I’m really happy he won the championship. He did a hell of a job all year. He is definitely very deserving, but he did it in a fashion that he typically doesn’t.

“Maybe we’ll have to watch out next year, too, to see what he brings.

“Congratulations to him on most poles in IndyCar history (68), but we will be fighting for No. 7 next year, and we’ll be fighting him to get there.”

Both Dixon and Power still have it when it comes to winning races and championships. They set the example for the younger drivers in IndyCar to follow.

Though this was a season where youth was not only served; it was showcased. In the end, the championship was going to be decided between three of the most successful and experienced drivers in the series – Power, Newgarden and Dixon.

“It’s never a question about that, it’s a question of how we can improve the program and each race we get to,” Dixon said. “It’s never about age, mate.

“I’m happy for Will, man.”

Dixon believed the abrasive nature of the track was a perfect fit for his teammate to win the race, which he did by leaving the rest of the field in a different zip code.

“This is like Alex’s ultimate track, this low-grip scenario, when you are in the zone sometimes, that’s just how it goes, man,” Dixon said.

Palou’s future remains highly uncertain. According to team owner Chip Ganassi, he has an option on the driver from Spain in 2023. Palou signed a contract with McLaren for next season.

The dispute is currently in mediation but may end up in court later this year.

Who would Dixon like to see in the No. 10 Honda next season?

“That’s not my decision, man, we’ll see what happen in the offseason,” Dixon said. “Hopefully, they get that worked out. Congratulations to Alex on winning the last race. He did a hell of a job today.

“He had some great speed, and it was great to see that side of the team get a win.”

With 41 points separating the top five, this was the closest points race between positions 1-5 since 2003 when it was a 30-point spread. The driver that won that championship was a young mate from Auckland, New Zealand, named Scott Dixon.

Nineteen years later, here was Dixon fighting it out for another championship.

Of Dixon’s six NTT IndyCar Series championships, the tightest was 2015 when Juan Pablo Montoya had a commanding lead and Dixon had to essentially run the table to win the title.

On a Lap 41 restart in the season’s final race at Sonoma Raceway, Power and then Team Penske drive Montoya collided into each other, sending Montoya to the pits for repairs.

When the race concluded, both Dixon and Montoya were tied in points, but Dixon won the championship in 2015 based on more victories that season.

“Even then, it got close because Montoya fought back,” Dixon recalled. “That one was even more wild because of the circumstances and the tiebreaker.

“Hey, I would have welcomed that again. That would be fantastic to win by one point. That’s the name of the game.”

Dixon has won championships by wide margins and tiebreakers. Doesn’t matter, a championship is a championship and the rest counts as a disappointment.

“They are all satisfying because they are all achieved so differently,” Dixon said. “You come from big deficits to leading all season to whatever it may be. They are like kids. You love them all the same but maybe you treat them differently.

“The first championship is big, for sure.”

Dixon’s leads a great life with his effervescent wife, Emma, two daughters, Poppy and Tilly, and a bundle of energy 2-year-old son named Kip.

Which title is Kip?

“He’s the crazy one, so probably 2015,” Dixon said.

Once again, Dixon came close to another championship but wasn’t able to seal the seventh title that would tie him with the great A.J. Foyt for most IndyCar championships.

“Of course, you think about it, but it’s not seven until you have seven, and we don’t have seven,” Dixon said. “To talk about it is just hypotheticals.”

After Sunday’s race, seven remains a hypothetical number to Dixon.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The red flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500