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.