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Dixon Appears To Be In IndyCar Championship Form

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 6 2020

Scott Dixon is 2 for 2 in the 2020 IndyCar Season. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A notoriously slow starter during his stellar INDYCAR career, Scott Dixon has begun the COVID-19 delayed 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season like a man determined to secure a sixth championship.

Back-to-back victories in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course and in the season-opener on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-speed oval in June have defined Dixon’s new normal.

Yeah, who knows? What’s ‘normal’ these days, right?” Dixon said after his second runaway win. “So it’s always nice to start strong. It’s amazing to pick up the first two wins of the season, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything. We’ll just keep our head down and try and keep staying up front and trying to get some of those points. Yeah, it’s a great way to start. But again, it doesn’t cement anything.”

Dixon benefited from a well-timed caution period near the midway point on IMS’ 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course, social-distancing himself from runnerup Graham Rahal by an event-record 19.9469-seconds. It marked the first victory in the event for Dixon, who had finished second in this race the last three years. 

“So good to be racing here again at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Dixon said. “We’ve had so many runnerup spots here on the road-course. We got lucky. The strategy, the team just nailed it. We got lucky with that caution. But as soon as we got the balance right, the PNC Bank No. 9 Honda just checked out.”

Dixon won the annual night race on TMS’ 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth on June 6 by 4.411-seconds over Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske. Dixon’s fourth win at TMS was his second in three years, tying him with Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves in the track’s record book. Saturday’s result was the 48th career INDYCAR victory for Dixon, who now is just four wins behind Mario Andretti (52) for No. 2 on the all-time series list led by A.J. Foyt Jr. (67).

“I don’t know, man. It’s amazing,” Dixon said. “It’s amazing just to be in the same conversation as these people. I remember looking back and watching races of Mario, watching races when I first came to America in ’97 and watching races of A.J. Foyt. They are legends of the sport. I just feel, again, lucky to be doing what I’m doing, coming from a little country like New Zealand. And yes, we have a huge racing history and background, but this definitely changed over the last few decades. But yeah, I love the sport. I love racing. If we can keep winning _ we’re in the business of winning _ so you have to do that.

“You know, look, it’s a lot of fun to win these races. They’re very tough. The competition is crazy and just even how the strategy can flip. I feel very fortunate when we’re able to pull them off. Four wins from Mario is still a long ways.

“Again, it’s not just me, it’s the team behind us. It’s the partners like PNC Bank, it’s Chip, it’s Honda, it’s hundreds of people that make it possible. So I just feel very special to be a part of it.”

Rahal finished second in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda after making two pit stops, one fewer than Dixon and the other contenders. Pagenaud rebounded from a disappointing qualifying session Friday, jumping from a 20th starting spot to finish third in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

Colton Herta finished fourth in the No. 88 Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Honda, while Rinus VeeKay bounced back from a tough debut at Texas to become the top-finishing rookie with a fifth-place result in the No. 21 Sonax Chevrolet.

Dixon earned his first victory at the “Racing Capital of the World” since he won the Indianapolis 500 in 2008. He jumped into contention Saturday when rookie Oliver Askew spun exiting Turn 14 and backed into the SAFER Barrier on Lap 36, triggering the only caution period of the 80-lap race. Askew was uninjured in the incident.

When the caution flew, pole-sitter Will Power led Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden by 3.6495- seconds. But Power, Newgarden and other leaders had only made one pit stop, while Dixon made his second stop on Lap 33, two laps before the caution. When Power, Newgarden and Jack Harvey dove into the pits for their second stops under caution, that elevated Dixon in the running order. Rahal led on the restart, with Spencer Pigot and Dixon second and third, respectively.

Dixon got around Pigot and then passed Rahal in Turn 1 for the lead on Lap 48. After that, he lost the top spot only when making his third and final stop on Lap 55. Dixon took the lead for good on Lap 62 after the leaders cycled through their final stops.

Dixon inexorably pulled away from Rahal and the rest of the field, delivering Chip Ganassi Racing its 110th INDYCAR victory. Dixon also became the first driver besides Pagenaud and Power to win this event, as the Penske teammates each have three victories in the IMS road-course race that made its debut in 2014.

The series returns with a doubleheader next weekend, the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Race 1 is Saturday, July 11 (5 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network), with Race 2 on Sunday, July 12 (12:30 p.m. NBC).

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INDYCAR’s Aeroscreen underwent its first extended road-course test in the heat Saturday at IMS, where Simon Pagenaud said the cockpit of his No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevy felt like a sauna.  

“Yeah, it’s extremely, extremely hot,” said Pagenaud, who won this event in May 2019. “You know, if you want to compare it to NASCAR, it’s just that the air doesn’t circulate well in the cockpit. It’s such a small cockpit and it feels like the air just stays, doesn’t come out of the cockpit, and there’s no wind. You could actually run with your visor open just to get some air.

“I think we just need to do some work on ventilation, maybe work on the helmet and work on the tube and work on also having a bigger drink bottle. I think those were what we had in the past, and the heat level, it doesn’t work for me. Those are little things that you’ve got to work on and that’s how…we’re a top team. This team always thinks about these things and little details make you better. That’s what we’re going to work on, but we’ve got the sports car experience, as well, on the Team Penske side that might help. Those are the kind of things that I enjoy doing with my engineer and my crew, so it will be an interesting (week).”

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NBC Sports’ coverage of the inaugural NASCAR/INDYCAR crossover weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway _ with the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series and INDYCAR Series all competing at the same track for the first time _ delivered viewership milestones for all three races.

Viewership of Saturday’s INDYCAR GMR Grand Prix on NBC was up seven percent vs. the same race in 2019, while the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 was the most-watched Xfinity race from the Brickyard in three years (1.693-million, NBCSN, 2017), up 21 percent vs. the series’ four races on NBC in 2019.

Meanwhile, NBC Sports’ first NASCAR Cup Series race of the 2020 season produced significant viewership gains from 2019, as the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records at Indianapolis Motor Speedway averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 4.370-million viewers _ up 46 percent vs. same race in 2019, which ran in September _ according to Fast National data by Nielsen and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

Sunday’s race, which started roughly an hour late due to weather, was also up 32 percent compared to last year’s NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on the comparable weekend (7/7/2019), which delivered a TAD of 3.313-million viewers.

NBC Sports continues its 2020 NASCAR Cup Series coverage on Sunday, July 19, at 3 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network, with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

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Results Saturday of the GMR Grand Prix NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.439-mile/14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (7) Scott Dixon, Honda, 80, Running
2. (4) Graham Rahal, Honda, 80, Running
3. (20) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 80, Running
4. (3) Colton Herta, Honda, 80, Running
5. (18) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 80, Running
6. (14) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 80, Running
7. (6) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 80, Running
8. (13) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 80, Running
9. (15) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 80, Running
10. (17) Takuma Sato, Honda, 80, Running
11. (19) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 80, Running
12. (8) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 80, Running
13. (12) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 80, Running
14. (22) Zach Veach, Honda, 80, Running
15. (9) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 80, Running
16. (10) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 80, Running
17. (2) Jack Harvey, Honda, 80, Running
18. (24) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 80, Running
19. (21) Alex Palou, Honda, 80, Running
20. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 80, Running
21. (26) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 79, Running
22. (25) Marco Andretti, Honda, 79, Running
23. (23) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 79, Running
24. (16) Spencer Pigot, Honda, 74, Mechanical
25. (11) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 41, Mechanical
26. (5) Oliver Askew, Chevrolet, 34, ContactRace Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 114.789 mph
Time of Race: 1:41:59.3232
Margin of victory: 19.9469-seconds
Cautions: 1 for 4 laps
Lead changes: 10 among 8 driversLap Leaders
Power, Will 1 – 16
Harvey, Jack 17
Rahal, Graham 18 – 26
Power, Will 27 – 38
Rahal, Graham 39 – 47
Dixon, Scott 48 – 54
Pigot, Spencer 55
Ericsson, Marcus 56
Newgarden, Josef 57 – 60
Veach, Zach 61
Dixon, Scott 62 – 80

Point standings _ Dixon 104, Pagenaud 75, Newgarden 64, Herta 58, Rahal 54, Veach 50, Daly 46, O’Ward 42, Hunter-Reay 41, Ericsson 40.

2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE/RACE WINNER

Saturday, June 6 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon)

Saturday, July 4 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course 1 (Scott Dixon)

Saturday, July 11 _ Road America Race 1, Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Sunday, July 12 _ Road America Race 2, Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Friday, July 17 _Iowa Speedway Race 1, Newton

Saturday, July 18 _ Iowa Speedway Race 2, Newton 

Sunday, Aug. 9 _Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio 

Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 15-16 _ Indianapolis 500 Qualifying

Sunday, Aug. 23 _ Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

Sunday, Aug. 30 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill.

Sunday, Sept. 13 _Portland (Ore.) International Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Race 1, Monterey, Calif. 

Sunday, Sept. 20 _WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Race 2, Monterey, Calif.

Saturday, Oct. 3 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course Race 2

Sunday, Oct. 25 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 6 2020
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