Dixon Continues His Climb Up IndyCar Ladder

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 9 2022

IndyCar driver Scott Dixon is making his way to the top of the series’ historical heap. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

The greatest INDYCAR driver of this generation can now officially be mentioned in the same sentence with open-wheel icons A.J. Foyt Jr. and Mario Andretti.

Scott Dixon’s 53rd career NTT IndyCar Series victory in Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix not only broke a deadlock with Andretti for second on the all-time wins list, it also positioned the New Zealander for a late-season run at tying Foyt’s record of seven championships.

Dixon’s second victory of the season pulled him within six points of championship leader Will Power with three races remaining on the 2022 schedule. Dixon is bidding to match the series record of seven titles held by Foyt, also the all-time leader with 67 career victories. Dixon won his titles in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015, 2018 and 2020 _ all for team-owner Chip Ganassi. 

“Yeah, the motivation for seven (titles) is strong for sure,” Dixon told RacinToday.com during a weather-delayed open test at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth in March. “We worked hard in the offseason trying to figure out the areas we needed to work on, and we laid that out pretty well. I love racing. I love the NTT IndyCar Series and what they do.”

Dixon is the first driver to take sole possession of second place on the all-time wins list since July 1, 1984, when Andretti won his 37th INDYCAR race on a temporary track in a parking lot at The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., to break a tie with Al Unser Sr.

The 2022 season is Dixon’s 21st with Chip Ganassi Racing, making him the longest-tenured driver in the organization’s history. “Always on Chip’s good side,” said Dixon, 41, who has become synonymous with the No. 9 Honda. Dixon’s INDYCAR resume includes a victory in the 92nd Indianapolis 500 in 2008 from pole position. During the 2022 Indy 500 on May 29, Scott passed “Big Al” Unser (644) for most laps-led all-time around the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

In classic “Dixie” fashion, he now has recorded two wins and five top-five finishes in the past six races Dixon has collected 220 points during a span that began at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course _ most points among a field featuring teammates Marcus Ericsson _ the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion _ and reigning series champ Alex Palou.

Scott Dixon makes his way around the Nashville street course.

Sunday’s victory over fellow-Kiwi Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske moved Dixon into second in driver points, just six back of Penske’s Will Power. In addition, Dixon’s margin of victory of 0.1067-seconds was the fourth-narrowest on a street or road-course in series history.

On Lap 29 around the tight and demanding 2.1-mile/11-turn temporary circuit, Dixon was running 26th and last after a penalty for emergency service in a closed pit. Fifty-one laps later, Dixon was celebrating in Victory Lane.

“We knew the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda was fast all weekend,” said Dixon, who routinely has downplayed comparisons of himself to “Super Tex” and Mario. “Kudos to the team. We had a big crash there and took half the floor off the car. We had to take four turns of front wing off, so we had no grip. I think we did about 45 or 50 laps on the last set of tires. Nashville is awesome and that was such a wild day. These ones are a lot of fun because it’s such a team effort and for all that we achieved.”

McLaughlin finished second after a two-lap chase to the checkered following a late red flag. It was the closest margin of victory this season on a street or road-course. McLaughlin insisted he needed one more lap to change the outcome against his hero.

“We were alongside there across the finish line,” said McLaughlin, a three-time Australian V8 Supercars Series champion for DJR Team Penske in his second season in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet. “We were 16th after that last pit exchange. I had an awesome restart and man, the car was fast. The Dex Imaging Chevy was unreal _ good on its fuel and good power. We just fell short at the end.

“Congratulations to Scotty. I always dreamed about racing him to the finish. We kind of had that last year at Texas (on TMS’ 1.5-mile oval) but this was a proper duel. I had a lot of fun. That’s why I come IndyCar racing. This is the best racing in the world.”

Palou placed third in the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, despite racing with a left front wing main plane flapping over bumps after contact early in the race.

“I thought it was a good day for the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda car,” said Palou, the Spaniard currently involved in a messy contract dispute with Ganassi over a reported move to Arrow McLaren SP in 2023. “The team did such an amazing job with the stops and strategy all day. I’m very happy and it was well-deserved for the team _ and for Scott Dixon, as well.”

Palou is fifth in the standings, 33 points behind first-place Power. “It’s time to push once again to get the NTT IndyCar Series championship,” Palou said. “We got one stop closer, but a long way to go.”

Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport rallied from multiple instances of contact that put him a lap down to finish fourth in the No. 27 Honda. Andretti teammate Colton Herta also recovered from early contact and falling a lap down to finish an improbable fifth in the No. 26 Honda.

A furious finish after 80 laps of full-contact racing tightened the point table with three races remaining, as 33 points separate the top-five with a minimum of 51 points available to a race winner.

Power, the 2014 series champion from Australia, finished 11th in a damaged No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet and is clinging to a six-point advantage over Dixon. Ericsson, the Swede who earned double points with his Indy 500 victory, finished 14th in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and is 12 points behind Power in third.

Nashville-area native Josef Newgarden, who finished sixth in his Team Penske Chevrolet, is 22 points behind Power in fourth followed by Palou in fifth.

The second edition of this event was marked by a second straight year of chaos and chassis carnage, constant strategy changes and a winner hardly anyone saw coming after 80 laps on a bumpy street circuit. The layout features two trips per lap over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Cumberland River.

The two-lap dash for the checkered was created on Lap 76, when Newgarden and Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean made contact in Turn 9 on a restart as Newgarden moved up the field. The contact sent Frenchman Grosjean and his No. 28 Honda into a tire barrier. Race officials decided to throw the red flag on Lap 77 so the race _ marred by eight caution periods _ could end with one more dash to the checkered flag.

Watching a post-race replay of the incident with Grosjean, Newgarden said, “I was alongside of him fully if not a little bit ahead. Yeah, I’m already ahead of him at that point. Welcome to INDYCAR. It gets tight. It’s a good thing I was ahead. That’s the biggest thing _ you’re going to want to be ahead of this guy in this type of moment.”

The inaugural Nashville event in August 2021 saw 19 of 27 starters running at the finish. On Sunday, only 13 of 26 entrants made it to the checkered flag in some form after a variety of chassis, mechanical and electrical-related issues.

“It’s tight, street-course racing,” said Newgarden, the series champion in 2017 and 2019. “I about got taken out six times myself. We probably need to have some discussion with the younger guys. They’re very aggressive and if you’re not aggressive back, then you get run over. That’s INDYCAR racing. You have to learn it pretty quick. I don’t like it but that’s the game we’re in.

“Ultimately, we had a big fight back with the PPG car and Team Chevy. That’s all I can say. This has been a really frustrating year in a lot of ways and the way it’s built. We’ve won a lot of races and had a ton of good luck, all thanks to the team and the effort they put in. But more often than not, we’re either winning the race or things are completely going against us one way or the other.

“It’s built frustration for me because it’s hard to see that happen for this crew when they work so hard. I hate it, too. I’m very competitive. It happens a couple of times a year where things don’t go your way, it’s part of the luck. It’s just happened one too many times, and today was another unlucky day with the way the whole thing played-out.”

Both Dixon and NTT P1 Award winner McLaughlin had similar amounts of push-to-pass remaining for the restart, so the finish came down to a two-lap duel. Neither Kiwi blinked in a masterful display of driving skill, but Dixon timed the restart perfectly and built a small gap on McLaughlin. As the two darted around the circuit for the final time, McLaughlin never got close enough to Dixon to slingshot past him on the bridge. Dixon bobbled slightly on the final corner before the checkered, but McLaughlin couldn’t sneak past.

“We were worried about him because I knew he would take chances,” Dixon said of McLaughlin. “He kind of has to with the standings at the moment. He was super-fast, as well. He had fresh tires, too. I was a sitting duck. If there had been a lap or two more, it would have been really tough to do.”

Asked what he would take away from the experience, McLaughlin said, “I hate coming in second! It is what it is, but I learned a lot. We’ll focus and get better. I’m really proud of everyone. I’m proud of myself, proud of my team and proud of everyone and how we rebounded. We came in with a car that was fast enough to challenge for a race win and got a pole. So, it was a great weekend and a great points weekend. We’ll keep pushing the last three races of the year.”

Palou wasn’t far behind, finishing just 0.6100-seconds back of Dixon. In fact, the top four cars all finished within one second, as Rossi was just 0.9412-seconds behind the winner.

Dixon became a long-shot for even a top-10 finish after he was collected in a chain-reaction incident on Lap 26 that damaged the floor of his No. 9 Honda and required emergency service in a closed pit on Lap 27. Dixon subsequently was ordered to the rear of the running order as a penalty.

Dixon made his final pit stop under green on Lap 51 and caught a break one lap later when the No. 21 Chevrolet driven by Dutchman Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing and the No. 15 Honda of Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing made contact in Turn 4 and triggered a caution period.

The top-10 cars in the field pitted during that caution, which helped Dixon cycle toward the front. Dixon took the lead for the first time _ and for good _ when Newgarden made his final pit stop on Lap 66.

Dixon earned $10,000 from the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge for the victory, which will be split between his team and his charity, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Next up on the schedule is the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Saturday, Aug. 20, at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Live coverage of the last oval track race of the season is booked for the USA Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network starting at 6 p.m. (EDT).

Linus Lundqvist showed why he is the class of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field Sunday, leading all 35 laps from pole to win the Indy Lights Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville.

A native of Sweden, Lundqvist earned his series-leading fifth victory in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry, beating second place Sting Ray Robb to the checkered flag by 7.2221- seconds in a caution-free race. Lundqvist expanded his series lead to a commanding 95 points with four races remaining.

Lundqvist was only fourth-quickest during both practice sessions but started from pole when the field was set by entrant points after qualifying was canceled Saturday due to thunderstorms.

“So excited and so, so happy,” Lundqvist said. “We showed that we had the pace on street courses. In practice, I just had to dial myself in a little bit. Obviously, we got maybe a little bit lucky with qualifying, but I think we showed in the race that we had the pace to win.”

Andretti Autosport teammates Robb and Hunter McElrea finished second and third, respectively. Robb passed McElrea on Lap 32 for second, the highlight of a duel between the duo for several laps around the 2.1-mile/11-turn temporary street circuit that includes two trips per lap over the Cumberland River via the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Matthew Brabham finished fourth in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport car, with Christian Rasmussen rounding out a 2-3-4-5 result for Andretti Autosport in the No. 28 Road to Indy/Stellrecht entry.

McElrea stayed close to Lundqvist for the first six laps around the bumpy circuit. McElrea nearly hit the rear of Lundqvist’s car in Turn 4, exiting the bridge, on Lap 5 as he tried to look for an opening. But Lundqvist gradually pulled away, growing his lead to 0.9513-seconds on Lap 10 and 6.3779-seconds by Lap 25.

Lundqvist’s checkout from the field shone a spotlight on the fierce race for second between teammates Robb and McElrea. Robb looked for a way past many times over the closing half of the race. He finally made the decisive pass on Lap 32 as both drivers exited the bridge and headed toward Turn 9. Robb’s No. 2 Sekady car and McElrea’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport machine made contact, but Robb quickly gathered himself and dove under McElrea for second place.

McElrea’s car appeared damaged from the contact, and Robb drove away to beat his teammate to the finish by 3.1723-seconds.

While Lundqvist holds a lead of nearly two races-worth of points over second-place McElrea, the battle between Robb and McElrea mirrors the chase for second in the standings. McElrea leads third-place Robb by just eight points, with Brabham 20 points behind McElrea in fourth.

Next Indy Lights race will be the second and final oval event of the season, set for Saturday, Aug. 20, at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill. Live coverage will start at 4:15 p.m. (EDT) on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


Results of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.1-mile/11-turn Streets of Nashville temporary circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (14) Scott Dixon, Honda, 80, Running
    2. (1) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 80, Running
    3. (4) Alex Palou, Honda, 80, Running
    4. (17) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 80, Running
    5. (23) Colton Herta, Honda, 80, Running
    6. (6) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 80, Running
    7. (15) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 80, Running
    8. (3) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 80, Running
    9. (13) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 80, Running
    10. (11) Jack Harvey, Honda, 80, Running
    11. (8) Will Power, Chevrolet, 80, Running
    12. (10) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 79, Running
    13. (26) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 79, Running
    14. (18) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 76, Mechanical
    15. (19) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 76, Running
    16. (2) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 75, Contact
    17. (22) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 74, Running
    18. (25) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 72, Contact
    19. (16) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 63, Contact
    20. (7) David Malukas, Honda, 63, Contact
    21. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 32, Contact
    22. (24) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 32, Contact
    23. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 29, Contact
    24. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 25, Contact
    25. (12) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 25, Contact
    26. (21) Simona De Silvestro, Chevrolet, 25, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 79.744 mph
Time of Race: 2:06:24.2439
Margin of victory: 0.1067-seconds
Cautions: 8 for 36 laps
Lead changes: 3 among 4 drivers

Lap Leaders
McLaughlin 1 – 22
Palou 23 – 53
Newgarden 54 – 65
Dixon 66 – 80

NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10) _ 1, Will Power, Team Penske, 450; 2, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 444; 3, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 438; 4, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 428; 5, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 417; 6, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 392; 7, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 391; 8, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 330; 9, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 325; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 315.

Indy Lights Series point standings (top-10) _ 1, Linus Lundqvist, 436; 2, Hunter McElrea, 341; 3, Sting Ray Robb, 333; 4, Matthew Brabham, 321; 5, Christian Rasmussen, 302; 6, Benjamin Pedersen, 296; 7, Danial Frost, 278; 8, Jacob Abel. 235; 9, Kyffin Simpson. 234; 10, Christian Bogle 218.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 9 2022
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