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Dixon Dominates As IndyCar Season Begins

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 7 2020

Driver Scott Dixon celebrates his victory at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night with team owner Chip Ganassi. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Scott Dixon delivered a lesson in social-distancing, INDYCAR-style, and added to his burgeoning open-wheel history Saturday night during a dominating victory in the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Dixon led 157 of 200 laps around TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval en route to a 4.411-second margin of victory over Simon Pagenaud in a 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season-opener delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dixon’s fourth win in “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” was his second in three years, tying him with Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves in the TMS record book.  Dixon scored his previous wins here in 2008, 2015 and 2018 _ all with Chip Ganassi Racing. A five-time series champion, Dixon tied legendary Texan A.J. Foyt Jr.‘s  record for most seasons with at least one victory at 18. Dixon also has won at least one race for 16 consecutive years _ a streak that began in 2005.

Dixon’s 47th career victory is first among active drivers and third all-time behind open-wheel royalty _ Foyt, aka “Super Tex” (67), and Mario Andretti (52).

“To me, or for me, to even be kind of listed with those names is amazing. It doesn’t ever really sink in to be honest,” said Dixon, 39 and in his 19th season of driving for team-owner Ganassi. “I feel very lucky and privileged to do what I do, to get to race with the best in the world. To still have A.J. and Mario come to the track, I think that’s the coolest thing. And the Unsers, a lot of legends of the sport.”

Dixon’s average winning speed was 175.201 mph. Shortened from 248 laps to 200 because of COVID-19 concerns, the race was completed in 1 hour, 38:37.7648-seconds.

Onset of the pandemic forced IndyCar to postpone its originally scheduled opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 15. Due to ongoing health concerns, the event here was run in a single-day format of practice, qualifying and the race. On cue, Dixon topped the speed chart in his No. 9 Honda during the lone practice session, started second after being knocked off pole position by two-time/reigning series champ Josef Newgarden and answered that setback by turning the race into a rout.

Such strange times right now, and I just can’t thank the team enough,” a masked Dixon said in a socially-distanced Victory Lane. “It’s such a team effort…huge thanks to everybody involved, and bummed that the fans weren’t here. I wish everyone was here to celebrate.

The car just had some really good speed. It was just nice to drive in traffic. Never really had to push too hard. Just trying to make sure we could stay ahead of the rest of them. Not often you get a car like that. Just very thankful to have that. The team gave me an amazing car. It was a fun night for us on the No. 9. It’s great to be back in the car after such a long break, to do it like that.”

As noted by Dixon, sanctioning body INDYCAR ran the race without fans in the massive grandstands _ a fact TMS President/General Manager Eddie Gossage termed “depressing.”

“The only reason in my book any of us race is because the fans dig it,” Gossage said during a pre-race Press Box interview. “I’ve told old and young drivers we work for the fans. You’re not getting to race if it wasn’t for the fans, certainly not at this level. So we work for the fans. You can’t do this for long and keep it up. And so yeah, it’s depressing.”

The podium was filled-out by reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Simon Pagenaud in the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet and Newgarden in the No. 1 XPEL Team Penske Chevy.

“It was great to be back on the track,” said Pagenaud, who tied his TMS-best finish from 2018. “Just one word, just awesome to be back here. It was awesome to get into racing again. The false start in St. Pete, it was the first time in my career I’ve ever experienced anything like it. Being able to in this situation in the world right now, being able to come back, the IndyCar Series put on this action-packed show today.

“I just had a blast, I really did. I remembered why I’m racing. I certainly had the best time of my life tonight. Obviously, you want to win. I’m here to win. But I think we maximized our opportunity, quite frankly.”

Newgarden started from P1 and led the first 31 laps. Dixon passed him for the point on Lap 32 and led 157 of the next 168 laps. He took the lead for good on Lap 91. Newgarden led a total of 41 laps but spent most of the night trying to keep Dixon within sight of his Aeroscreen, the cockpit safety device that made its racing debut here after a year’s-worth of testing.

Newgarden launched defense of his victory here last summer and his 2019 championship in style earlier Saturday afternoon, qualifying on-pole with a two-lap average of 215.740 mph. Newgarden knocked Dixon off the provisional pole as last driver to qualify on a tarmac registering a temperature of 131 degrees.

“Honestly, tonight feels like a victory to me. We were not very good,” Newgarden said post-race. “Congrats to Scott. They were amazing tonight. I mean, they were just a cut above. They are very deserving winners. Honestly, we did everything we could to fight to stay up front. Early on I was doing everything I could to keep Scott behind. He was way quicker. Once I got a little deeper into the pack, it was even harder to hang onto that front area.

It was a tough night. I think we had good speed in the car. Team Chevy did a great job for us. We just did not have a perfect handle on what we needed over a full stint. Tonight for me was a night of hanging on. It’s one of those nights you just got to kind of swallow your pride.”

Zach Veach of Andretti Autosport finished fourth to tie his career-best result in the No. 26 Honda as the only other driver to lead laps (2). Team-owner/driver and oval-track specialist Ed Carpenter overcame a spin in practice to finish fifth in the No. 20 Chevrolet.

Meanwhile, perennial fan favorite Tony Kanaan finished 10th in his final TMS appearance after extending his streak of consecutive race starts to 318. Kanaan, driver of the No. 14 7-Eleven Chevrolet fielded by A.J. Foyt Racing, won this race in 2004 en route to his lone series championship.  TK, 45, is running a five-race, all-oval schedule en route to retirement.

It appeared late in the race that Dixon and CGR teammate Felix Rosenqvist would duel for the victory, as they were the class of the 23-car starting field. Dixon led by nearly six seconds early, but Rosenqvist pulled to within four-tenths of a second with 35 laps to go as Dixon struggled to find the grip to pass the lapped No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts/AutoNation Honda of Alexander Rossi.

Both Dixon and Rosenqvist got past Andretti Autosport’s Rossi on Lap 169. Two laps later, Dixon was forced to check up behind the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda of Marco Andretti, letting Rosenqvist stay in touch in his No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

The two cars raced in unison for the next 16 laps before Rosenqvist was called to the pits for his final stop on Lap 186. Dixon followed with his last stop on Lap 189 and hustled from pit lane to stay ahead of Rosenqvist when re-entering the back straight from pit lane, albeit in traffic.

Rosenqvist was flying, having turned the fastest lap of the race_ 215.025 mph _ on Lap 189. But he, too, got stuck behind traffic while pursuing Dixon after Dixon’s final stop. Desperate to stay in touch with Dixon, Rosenqvist’s car wiggled on Lap 191 while passing James Hinchcliffe’s No. 29 Genesys Honda in Turn 2. Rosenqvist nearly caught his car, but it did a half-spin and hit the SAFER Barrier at the exit of Turn 2 with the left side of the chassis, ending his night and triggering the last of four caution periods.

“I can’t blame others for whatever situation I had,” said Rosenqvist, who was uninjured. “We came out on new tires. I don’t know if James was on really old tires. It’s my judgment. I went for the outside. Probably shouldn’t have done it. It’s one of those things where you sit there, and you’re going 40 mph slower than you want to go behind another car, it’s kind of tempting to just move up one lane. But it was just so slippery, and I just feel very sorry for my guys.

“The NTT DATA car was really unbelievable tonight. It was my breakthrough on ovals, I think. I had a really good shot there and threw it away. I’m really disappointed.”

Dixon never was threatened on the ensuing, and final, restart on Lap 197. He ripped away from Pagenaud and Newgarden and cruised to Victory Lane, turning the fastest lap by a leader of the race _ 214.107 mph _ on the final circuit.

Dixon started second via a two-lap average of 215.638 mph. Earlier in the session, last year’s No. 1 qualifier, Takuma Sato, crashed in Turn 1 on his warm-up lap. Sato was checked and released from the Wise Health System infield care center but his No. 30 ABeam Consulting  Honda suffered extensive damage. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ultimately decided the car could not be repaired in time for the start and withdrew Sato from the lineup.

Series rookies Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing and Alex Palou of Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh both were unhurt in a crash on Lap 38, and veteran Charlie Kimball also was uninjured in a crash on the frantic final lap. Kimball was making his debut as fulltime driver of the No. 4 TRESIBA Chevrolet fielded by A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Next NTT IndyCar Series race is the GMR Grand Prix on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, July 4.

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Results Saturday of the Genesys 300 NTT IndyCar Series event on the high-banked/1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running
  2. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 200, Running
  3. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running
  4. (5) Zach Veach, Honda, 200, Running
  5. (13) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running
  6. (19) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 200, Running
  7. (14) Colton Herta, Honda, 200, Running
  8. (4) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 200, Running
  9. (20) Oliver Askew-(R), Chevrolet, 200, Running
  10. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 200, Running
  11. (12) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 199, Contact                                                        
  12. (18) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 199, Running
  13. (6) Will Power, Chevrolet, 199, Running
  14. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 199, Running
  15. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 199, Running
  16. (21) Jack Harvey, Honda, 199, Running
  17. (7) Graham Rahal, Honda, 198, Running
  18. (15) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 198, Running
  19. (17) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 196, Running
  20. (9) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 190, Contact
  21. (23) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 156, Mechanical
  22. (24) Rinus VeeKay-(R), Chevrolet, 36, Contact
  23. (16) Alex Palou-(R), Honda, 36, Contact
  24. (22) Takuma Sato, Honda, 0, Did Not Start

(R): Denotes Rookie of the Year candidate.

All cars use fourth-generation NTT IndyCar Series chassis (Dallara IR12) with universal IR-18 aerodynamic bodywork; Chevrolet or Honda 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 engines and Firestone Firehawk tires.

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 175.201 mph

Time of Race: 1:38:37.7648

Cautions: 4 for 24 laps

Lead changes: 5 among 3 drivers.

Lap Leaders: Newgarden, 1 – 31; Dixon, Scott 32 – 34; Veach, 35 – 36; Dixon,  37 – 80; Newgarden, 81 – 90; Dixon, Scott 91 – 200.

Point standings: Dixon 53, Pagenaud 40, Newgarden 37, Veach 33, Carpenter 30, Daly 28, Herta 26, Hunter-Reay 24, Askew 22, Kanaan 20.

 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 7 2020
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