PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Scott Dixon watched Scott McLaughlin lead lap after lap at Portland International Raceway and thought at some point his fellow New Zealander would be called to a stop.
There’s a championship at stake — the closest IndyCar title fight in 19 years — and McLaughlin is a longshot at best. His teammate Will Power is the championship leader, so Dixon figured the radio orders would eventually come to urge McLaughlin to hand the lead to Power.
“I think I said with ten laps to go, ‘I’m surprised they haven’t traded,'” Dixon said.
Team Penske has not issued any such team orders and will now wait until Sunday to see if it costs the organization the IndyCar title.
McLaughlin won his third race of the season and heads into this weekend’s season finale 41 points adrift of championship leader Power. Mathematically still in contention but he needs a lot of help on the California street circuit.
Power, on the other hand, finished second behind McLaughlin in Portland on Sunday to extend his lead in the standings. He arrived in Portland just three points clear of teammate Josef Newgarden, and Power is now 20 points ahead of Newgarden and Dixon.
Like Dixon, Power wondered why Team Penske hadn’t pushed McLaughlin aside.
“Absolutely. I asked about it on the radio,” Power said, noting that a win would have been worth 11 extra points and sent him to Laguna Seca by 31 points.
“Obviously 10 points, 11 points would make a big difference,” Power said. “You wouldn’t have to finish third (to win the title). You should have finished eighth or something.”
Power then reached out to Dixon and asked his longtime rival if his car owner, Chip Ganassi, would have called team orders in that position. Dixon nodded in agreement.
But Power has seen it before from years of championship fights against the Ganassi group, including a four-year fight with Dixon and Dario Franchitti from 2010-2013. Since Dixon and Franchitti have always worked as a group, they have often wondered why Power is at Penske was forced to compete with his own teammates.
Power finished second in the championship race for three straight years behind a Ganassi rider, finished fourth in 2013 and finally won his only title in 2014 when he defeated teammate Helio Castroneves.
Roger Penske allows each of his riders to represent their teams and sponsors individually, and his riders can compete against each other, but he draws that line when he gets into each other. Because he wants everyone to have a fair chance, any pre-race discussions about possible team orders for polesitter McLaughlin were brief.
“At the end of the day, it was completely awkward. It’s pretty obvious what position you’re in when you have to give up,” McLaughlin said. “I told Will before the race I was going to fight him clean and I think that’s all he expected.”
And while he was unaware that Power was calling for a change of leaders on the radio, McLaughlin said he understood and would have understood if he had been ordered to stop. He led 104 of the 110 laps in a dominant win.
“I’m a team player. I’ll do what I have to do but I think the best we could do was win the race, both cars. I think that’s what happened,” McLaughlin said.
But if he had been told to give the prize away?
“Everyone knew I would have been the real winner, so?” he said.
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