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Q and A: Dixon Can’t Get Enough

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 18 2018

Team owner Chip Ganassi and driver Scott Dixon are keeping the band together for several more years.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Chip Ganassi Racing’s longest-tenured driver will continue to add to that legacy, apparently well past his 40th birthday.

Scott Dixon, a four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and current point-leader, has signed a “multi-year” contract extension that will see the 38-year-old Kiwi compete with CGR for a record 18th season in 2019 in the No. 9 Honda.

Third on the all-time list with 44 victories, Dixon reportedly had been pursued by Zak Brown and rival series team-owner Michael Andretti for the lead seat in McLaren’s rumored return to the domestic open-wheel series. Instead, Dixon chose to remain with the organization that has placed him within striking distance of open-wheel legends A.J. Foyt Jr. (67 wins) and Mario Andretti (52) on the all-time list.

“This team has been like a family to me since way back in 2002, and
I’m glad I’ll be here trying to fight for more wins, championships and
Indianapolis 500s for years to come,” said Dixon, winner of the 2008
Indy 500, earlier this week.

Dixon noted there are “different levels” of talking contract with rival teams. “There’s general chit-chat, conversations, lots of hearsay,” Dixon said during a national teleconference with Ganassi. “I think there was some moderate discussions going on. But that’s really all it fell to.

“I have a long history with Chip. I respect him for what he does and what he’s done for me and for the team and what we’ve achieved together. If there’s something rock solid, something that I think we need to talk about, I’m going to go to him first and we’re going to discuss it and see what we can work out. Yes, there was many discussions. I think (agent) Stefan Johansson probably had many more. I think he and I have had a long and good relationship, too, where there is a lot of hearsay and a lot of fluff that sometimes goes somewhere, sometimes doesn’t. So I feel like he does a good job of filtering that.

To be honest it was a usual situation that we’ve gone through over past years, but this year was definitely…there was a lot more hearsay and a lot more rumblings and different things.”

The series’ winningest active driver, Dixon will take a 46-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport into Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway. Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske is third, 60 points out, with reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Will Power of Team Penske fourth, 87 points behind Dixon.

Dixon has led the 2018 championship since his win during the annual summertime night race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on June 9. Dixon also has wins this season in Race 1 of the Detroit Grand Prix street race doubleheader on Belle Isle and on the Streets of Toronto.

Dixon recently became just the ninth driver to compete in 300 races and is the youngest to reach the milestone. Dixon has joined Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Johnny Rutherford, Michael Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves in the 300 Club.

Ganassi’s Verizon IndyCar Series teams have won 11 championships and more than 100 races.The 2018 season is the organization’s 29th of Indy car competition.

On-track activity at Pocono is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) Saturday with one hour of practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live). Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/cumulative time of two laps) is set for 1:30 p.m. and will be aired by NBC Sports Network (live). A final, one-hour practice is set for 4:45 p.m. SaturdayRaceControl.IndyCar.com (live).

The green flag for Sunday’s race (200 laps/500 miles) is set for 2:10 p.m. on NBCSN.

An edited transcript of the teleconference follows:

MODERATOR:  Chip, you often use your hashtag #Ilikewinners on Twitter, so signing a guy like Scott Dixon has to make you quite happy for the immediate future of your team.

CHIP GANASSI:  “Obviously, Scott and I have been together a long time and he knows how to win, and more importantly, he knows how to win championships. There’s guys that can win races, but there’s other guys that can win championships and Scott has proven that. He’s proven that he’s not just a normal run-of-the-mill driver in any sense; where he is in the overall win column speaks for itself.

“I can’t help but think that however many years Scott and I have been together that…he’s the kind of driver that any team would want to have as their lead driver. I think on and off the track he shows that he is the man, as we like to say, or he’s the driver that if you were to take a stone and inject some brains into it, you’d chisel out Scott Dixon.

I think we have a mutual respect for each other, and we’ve always been on the same page. I think he has the same desire to win today as he did when he came with our team, and I think that’s impressive. He’s a team player. He’s always pushing the limits and he likes to get the most out of any situation. I’m very pleased to be sitting here today announcing him for the future, and I’m a happy man.”

MODERATOR: Scott is the longest-tenured driver for Chip Ganassi Racing. He started midway through the 2002 season. When you signed him, did you think he’d be capable of achieving what he has, primarily in the No. 9 car?

CHIP GANASSI: “You know, I like that people always say he’s the ‘longest-tenured driver.’ I don’t know if that says more about him or more about the other drivers. That’s a joke, of course.

He is the longest-tenured driver, and when you sign a guy like that, no, to say that you had any idea that he would perform the way he did, you certainly want that. But to say that anybody saw that I think would be…maybe his agent saw it or his wife, but I sure didn’t see it. But he’s developed _that’s probably the nicest thing about Scott is we’ve been together and we’ve all grown in that period of time, and I don’t think anybody could have grown into a better person than Scott Dixon, whether he’s a racing driver, a family man, a father, brother, son, whatever you want to call him, friend. There’s a million monikers that make up the man. But no, nobody had any idea he could do what he’s done in terms of the win column.”

MODERATOR: Scott, the last few months there have been a lot of rumors about you being courted by other teams, but you’ve kind of stayed silent. What makes Chip Ganassi Racing the best place for you?

SCOTT DIXON: “Definitely very excited, pumped that this day has occurred and it’s here and clears a lot of things up. I definitely respect the teams and people that we spoke to over the last few months, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s a whole lot different from what we’ve done in the past. This one has blown up a little bit more with maybe some of the other people talking.

“Next year will be starting my 18th year. As Chip sort of alluded to, I’ve grown a lot as a person and as a driver throughout the years, and it’s due to thanks and admiration for Chip himself, his team, the people that he enables us to go out there and win. For me, there’s a lot of other people that like racing because of what it is, but I love it for its passion and what we’re able to achieve. Not very many of us get the opportunity to do what we love in our life, and for me, as much as hashtag, we all like winning, and that’s what the business is about. I wouldn’t be here if we weren’t winning. The team wouldn’t be here, either.

Being here this long, there’s a reason why that is and that’s because it works well. I’ve always admired Chip for what he’s done throughout his career, and in all grand scales, a fairly young crew and what he’s achieved across many different platforms is almost unheard of. I love being here, I love the people and I love working for Chip. His passion and the way he wants to win drives all of us.”

MODERATOR: Scott, you’re leading the points, chasing a fifth championship. What’s your perspective on what 2018 has been for you and the No. 9 team?

SCOTT DIXON: “I think if you look in general, it was probably a little bit of a slow start, and I think we had the speed, it’s just we didn’t get to capitalize on that. A few races throughout that early portion we just…we either missed a little bit and it’s obvious the competition level and how just hard it is, you end up missing by a lot. I think coming down to the championship’s end or nearing it, you think about those missed opportunities that you had, and you hope that in reflection they don’t affect us coming down to the wire.

But yeah, happy with how the mid-season has gone. There’s always a few areas that I think we can improve as a team, and myself, too, and qualifying at some of the circuits, typically our strongest circuits, has been a little bit rough. But when you look at it points-wise we’re in a strong position, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything. It’s definitely time for us to all put our heads down and make sure we get the most of it and get as many points as we can coming into Sonoma.

Excited for the end of the year, excited that we’ve got a lot of this talk stuff out of the way and can really focus and go for the fifth championship.”

MODERATOR: You’ve been in the championship chase many, many times in your career, but you haven’t really been the guy who’s been hunted a lot. You’re usually the guy chasing the point-leader. What kind of experience do you take from past championship races into the final four of the season?

SCOTT DIXON: “I would always take leading the championship. It’s definitely a good position to be. The competition right now is definitely tough, and especially with the three or four that are in good striking position now. We know those teams and with the remaining races, I think everybody has got a pretty good shot. We definitely won’t lie down. I badly want another championship, and so does the team.

I think with the recent news, it gives us a good injection to stay focused and make sure we make the most of these opportunities because they don’t come around too easy or very often. Yeah, I think every championship is kind of like its own little thing. We’ve come from behind with big deficits and in 2008 I think we almost led the whole season and it came down to the wire. So yeah, personally, we just want to keep this lead and take it all the way throughout Sonoma.”

QUESTION:  Mr. Ganassi, is Scott driving as well this season as he has ever driven in his career?

CHIP GANASSI: “I would have to say yes. And it’s because…I think it was a little easier for Scott Dixon to drive when he had teammates like _and I don’t want to take anything away from Ed Jones here, OK. But I think it was a little easier for Scott when he had teammates like Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon. And again, I strongly am saying this, that it has nothing to do with Ed. But when you have teammates that are champions in their own right, I think that was a little easier. I don’t mean that as a slight to Scott, either, but I think it’s a little tougher when you don’t have a championship driver as a partner versus having one. Let me say that. Does that make sense?

And I think he’s driving better, because _yeah, I think he’s driving better.”

QUESTION: And because of the great shape that he keeps himself in, there’s no reason to believe he can’t keep this up into his mid-40s. Do you feel that there’s still many, many, many more seasons left for Scott Dixon in this series?

CHIP GANASSI: “Well, let’s just say that his contract is hopefully taking him there, so we’re going to find out for sure one way or the other.”

QUESTION: Scott, do you believe you’re driving as well this season as you’ve ever driven in your career?

SCOTT DIXON: “Oh, that’s a tough one. I think you have some standout races here and there. I think the thing for me is that you’ve got to keep an open mindset, right; it’s forever evolving. Each day I go to the track, you’re learning so many more new things, whether it’s about driving style, areas that you can improve and things you can do differently, even just around pit stops and things like that.

But yeah, I feel like I’m still absolutely giving it 110 percent. I guess on the long run, I still feel like I’m learning a lot. As I driver and as the way I think, there’s always areas that I can improve. And from the outside, it’s probably a little hard for me to maybe assess that, but yeah, as a team, we try to extract the most and for me that’s the focus, not just myself but getting the most out of everyone.”

CHIP GANASSI: “If I could add something there, I think you have to factor in, when you ask that question, you have to factor in, too, that cars kind of have changed. When you look at all the years Scott has been with us, how many different cars he’s driven, and each car does certain things well and other things not so well, and it’s how you adapt to that, those changing environments. Some cars were, I think, easier to drive and some were more difficult to drive over the years, so I think you’ve got to sprinkle that over the top of your question and my answer, and Scott’s answer for that matter. Everything else is not a static condition and we’re just…the only variable is Scott’s driving ability. I mean, there are a lot of other things you factor into that.”

QUESTION: Scott, you’ve got four or five guys behind you in the standings. How do you focus on what you have to do every weekend and not let all that clutter sort of get into your mind? Can you talk about your approach to each race weekend going forward?

SCOTT DIXON: “You know, personally, it’s just taking each weekend as it is. We have the same approach at Chip Ganassi Racing every weekend and when we go in, we go there to win. And as Chip always says, if you can’t win, then we’re going to try and be second; if you can’t be second, try and be third. For me, that’s the focus when I’m looking at circuits.

Each year they change a little bit, right, like some tracks that we maybe struggled at a bit last year we’ve improved. It’s constantly moving a bit. But yeah, for me, definitely the worst thing you can do is fall into a points racing situation where you’re thinking about where your fellow competitors are constantly throughout the race. Obviously, you should have a pretty good coverage on what you need to do, but you have to be very careful to hopefully not flip into a points racing situation.”

QUESTION: How tough is this championship right now, and obviously you want to win, but how difficult is it going to be?

SCOTT DIXON: “They’re always very tough. All of them are all very different, too, and I think throughout the years being in this category, it’s one of the top three in the world, right, so you’ve got a pretty small and short list of competitors throughout. Everybody that’s made it to this stage is well-equipped and very good at what they do. I don’t think there’s ever really landslide victories or someone that comes in and crushes it and runs away with the championship.

I think for us it’s the same. You’re always trying to make the most out of each weekend, when you’ve got the downtime and off weekends, think about how you could have improved the last race and then looking forward to how that may apply to the upcoming races and closing out the championship strong. For me, it’s crunch time, right. Each race in theory pays the same points throughout the season, outside of Indy and Sonoma, so you have to work hard at all of them, and that’s what makes up a great championship.

But yeah, I think it’s a slightly different look from last year with the competitors, but most of the usual suspects, and they’re all extremely tough. I think that’s why I’m always very proud of what I’ve achieved with this team and how we’ve achieved it. And having four championships at this level and the different disciplines that you have to be good at, it doesn’t make things easy.”

QUESTION: Chip, when this rumor thing was going on and there were so many people interested in Scott, was there ever a time where you thought maybe you’d lost him? Did it ever get to that serious?

CHIP GANASSI: “You know, I think the only time I ever thought I would lose him is when I was reading Robin Miller’s columns there for a while. You know, but I said to Scott one day, I said, ‘Hey, we should get together, we haven’t talked in a while, we should get together.’ He said, ‘All right, I’ll come over to Pittsburgh next week,’ and he was nice enough to come over and he sat down and we talked and we had lunch and we did this and that and we talked about a bunch of things. And I said, ‘Hey, all this talk about these other teams. Is there anything going on I need to know about or anything?’ And he looked over at me, and he said, ‘Believe me, if there’s something going on, you’ll be the first to know. We’re OK.’ I said OK and that was the end of it. That was probably, I don’t know, a month ago or something. So I kind of took him at his word. Didn’t really pay much attention before that or after that.”

QUESTION:  Scott, what more can you accomplish with Chip, and also, because you already have accomplished so much, why even look around and see what else is out there?

SCOTT DIXON: “Well, I think you’d be silly not to look at the landscape, and I’m not just talking Indy car. It’s other series, it’s future, it’s…things change, and I think it’s good to have an understanding, whether it’s for myself or whether it’s for Chip, to see things, where things are moving. There’s always a bit of a stigma on age and a lot of people get that kind of flak throughout their careers. But for me, it was…I think you’re just doing a bit of research and looking to see, not really what options are out there but just sort of trying to understand the landscape, and I’m talking about across any sport in general.

“But for me right now, my focus has been this _ winning with this team. What can we achieve? We can achieve winning Pocono 2018, and that’s one. That’s this week. And then it goes on after that. But for me, I want to win championships. I want to win races. We’re in the business of winning races and to me that’s what’s most important about what I do. It’s my passion. It’s what I love to do.”

QUESTION:  Scott, when you made your decision to stay with Chip, how much did the future and the accomplishments that you can potentially achieve figure into your decision? You’re only eight wins away from tying Mario for second-most wins in open-wheel. You’re three championships away from tying A.J.’s seven titles. Did that have a lot of impact upon you?

SCOTT DIXON: “You know, I think there’s lots of things that come into the decision, and I think when it came down to it, for me it was a fairly straightforward decision. You know, it got a lot more media attention just because of some of the other entities that were involved. And I think right now, which is a great position to be in for the series. Everybody is excited about the series and what INDYCAR is doing. You’ve got a huge thanks to the core teams that are there right now and the racing and INDYCAR in general to make it what it is.

“But yeah, you know, there’s lots of things to think about _ the future, your next race, the people that I’ve cast as family, going into my 18th season next year. There’s a lot of emotions and the respect that I have for the people that have enabled me to do what I’ve achieved so far, and hopefully we can build on it, and yeah, that definitely becomes an emotional thing. Also, these people were the ones that gave me the opportunity to start with, that helped me. I was out of a drive when PacWest was gone, and sticking with me in the 2003 start of the season with INDYCAR and later to go on to win the championship.

Yeah, there’s multiple ways to look at it, but I think sometimes those can be pretty simple answers.”

QUESTION: Chip, was this the biggest sigh of relief you’ve ever had, after Scott said he’s coming back?

CHIP GANASSI: “I don’t know that I looked at it in terms of a sigh of relief. It was that some of the noise would quiet down about that I always felt was just noise anyway around his contract situation. I guess it was a sigh of relief from that perspective. But as Scott alluded to and I did earlier, I think we were on the same page, so I really didn’t think there was a lot to it. I’m sure there was some, and there should have been some. I mean, nobody wants a driver on their team nobody else wants, right?”

QUESTION: Scott, Pocono is a place where you’ve won at in the past. Just how do you think the new universal aero kit is going to perform there?

SCOTT DIXON: “Yeah, always look forward to it. I think Pocono is definitely the ‘Tricky Triangle.’ It’s very difficult to get (Turns) 1 and 3. It takes a lot of compromise, I think, to have a successful race there or even a car that’s not too difficult to drive. But I expect it to be pretty similar to last year. I think at Indianapolis with the four corners at least…both ends, the two of them being quite close together, we saw the washout in big packs that disrupted the air and made it a little more difficult. But I was kind of a fan of that because I think you saw the actual really good cars stay at the front. They continued to be good in traffic, and if you weren’t up there at the end, it was strictly…I think in the recent past, the last two or three years, we’ve seen, not fabricated, but almost anybody have a chance of winning because it was a pack race and sometimes whoever took the biggest risk was going to come out on top. So I do like the style of racing slightly better.

“From the numbers, I think qualifying levels are fairly similar. Race, downforce is probably a bit lighter, I hear from the test. There were a few cars that tested there last week, that the track has got a little more character, too, a few bumps here and there, and that should make it interesting, too. But I expect the racing to be good. I expect our team to be good. It’ll be interesting to see how it evens-up against the manufacturer. The other manufacturer (Chevrolet) or our competition were definitely very strong at Indy this year, so this is probably the most similar configuration that we have to Indianapolis.”

QUESTION: Scott, with everything you’ve been able to accomplish in your career, the numbers and the championships, have you taken time to kind of reflect on that?

SCOTT DIXON: “I think you have moments. I think when you have a win, it becomes prominent again and it changes some of the context. When I was at Chip’s in Pittsburgh, he had just a delivery of the fresh new 200 wins book that the team has achieved. Yeah, you have those moments to reflect, and you chat about those. But yeah, I think when you’re in the thick of it like we are right now for the next few years, I guess there’s up and down times of when you look at it. For me, it has become a lot more prominent in the last two or three years, but we’ve moved up on the scale a little bit. I’d be lying to say that you don’t notice it or don’t really look at it.”

QUESTION: Chip, I wanted to get your sense of the health of the series. Scott alluded to the good racing. There’s a new TV contract taking effect next year where ABC no longer has the Indy 500, NBC does. What’s your take on the general health of the series, particularly with Pocono trying to get its crowds up after struggling in the five or six years since the track has been back on the schedule?

CHIP GANASSI: “Yeah, I think I’ve been in Indy car racing since 1982, and not a year goes by that someone doesn’t ask about the health of the series. I think it’s up, I think it’s down, I think it’s up, I think it’s down. I think we’re in a period right now when it’s on the uptick and I think when you have…I think it’s great news with NBC in the series now for 2019, really for the rest of this season, and the job they’re doing promoting the series. Like I was at the NASCAR race (last Sunday) in Michigan, and I walked back to the motorhome, and I watched the television for maybe 50 laps, and right in the middle of the NASCAR broadcast is an INDYCAR ad with Scott Dixon in it.

And so I think they’re promoting the series on television like it’s never been promoted before, and I think that’s going to draw some fans. I think NBC has shown that they do a great job with the big events they have. So when they come to Indianapolis next year, I’m sure that it’s going to be a first-class job, and I think there’s a lot of anticipation and excitement surrounding that.

“You know, I think with the series, as well, it just follows that that’ll be a castoff onto the rest of the series. I think it’s on an uptick right now. I think the fact that we have new sponsors coming into the sport is a feather in the sport’s cap, and we’re happy about that and happy to be a part of both.”

SCOTT DIXON: “I think Chip answered it perfectly. I think the likes of what he was able to do with PNC Bank and bringing in such a big brand like that speaks volumes, too. The TV package, I think the personnel that they have there and the numbers that are…to be honest, in pretty tough times across sports in general, I think moving in a very positive direction compared to a lot of others, with the talk of different races coming on, the ones that they’ve been building on and resurrecting. I think the racing, for me, and I’m going to be biased, right, but INDYCAR racing is the best racing in the world, with the different disciplines, what it takes to win a championship to the biggest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500. As soon as you get somebody to see it, they’re really locked in. The diversity of the drivers, the teams, where these people come from, there’s just so much to soak up.

“For me, it’s definitely a really positive time, and as Chip said, it’s heading in a great direction.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 18 2018
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