Dixon still in IndyCar title shot despite Indy 500 slip-up

MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) — Scott Dixon knows that without a rare slip from “The Iceman” at the Indianapolis 500, IndyCar’s closest championship race in nearly 20 years would likely have been decided long ago.

Dixon was the dominant car at Indianapolis in May, leading 95 laps until a late speeding penalty saw the New Zealander out of the race. Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson instead won the race, and because the Indy 500 is worth double points, Ericsson was suddenly bumped into the IndyCar championship race.

But if Dixon hadn’t been speeding, he might have won, or at least finished better than 21st. Ericsson received 109 points for the win; Dixon earned just 33 in a crushing disappointment that could ultimately have Championship implications.

Will Power is the championship leader ahead of Sunday’s season finale, a five-driver battle that’s the closest in IndyCar since 2003, when the series was called “The IRL.” Power leads Dixon and his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden by 20 points. Ericsson is 39 points clear of the lead, with Penske’s McLaughlin fifth on 41 points.

Had he pitted just a tad slower in May, he likely would have sent Dixon into the Laguna Seca Raceway with a sizeable lead in the standings to claim a record-breaking seventh championship.

“Yes, I think if we had even finished in the top three, this championship would be pretty easy right now,” Dixon told The Associated Press. “But I can’t change that. It’s history. It’s long gone. And you must move forward.”

Dixon bounced back from Indianapolis and won in Toronto, where he tied with Mario Andretti for second on the IndyCar win list, and win No. 53 put him past Andretti when he won in Nashville in August. That second win of the season put him back in contention for the title, and his run from 16th to third last week in Portland made him a serious contender for Power next Sunday.

Should he win that title, it would take Dixon to the mystical number seven, the record mark in the world’s top series. AJ Foyt holds the IndyCar record with seven titles, Richard Petty, the late Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson won seven in NASCAR, and Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton each have seven F1 titles.

Dixon doesn’t even consider joining the exclusive club.

“It’s great to talk about it after your performances, but I’ve got six, I don’t have seven,” Dixon told the AP. “I think I like seven because it’s more than six. If you look at the historical side, or if you look at motorsport or other sports in general, Seven is definitely at the top of the heap and of course it would be very special. But I’ve got six now, and that’s the facts.”

Dixon and the Chip Ganassi Racing fleet took advantage of their final test of the season at Laguna Seca, while Team Penske took advantage of their final test at Portland, winning the race 1-2 with McLaughlin and Power. It has sent two Ganassi drivers and three Penske drivers into the title decider, and the two teams have won 14 of IndyCar’s last 16 championships combined.

Ganassi is a winner of the last two championships and has emerged victorious in 10 of the title fights, partly due to Ganassi’s philosophy of racing for the larger organization. They view Team Penske as three unique efforts, with the only team order being that the best driver wins.

It’s causing some tension in the Penske camp, particularly during a Pebble Beach media event for the competitors, where Newgarden appeared aloof as his rivals enjoyed their morning at the iconic golf course.

Newgarden, who has won five straight races that year and has recovered from an apparent concussion sustained in August, later revealed he has had some internal struggles that season. He sometimes had to apologize to his crew, explaining it away as “a problem with trying to be a perfectionist in everything I do.

“The more years you do this, the more you demand that excellence and perfection,” Newgarden said. “(When) it derails, it makes it all the easier to upset you. That was the case with me. Because I’m such a perfectionist, the longer I do this, the harder it gets. If you’re a perfectionist and you’ve been doing this sport long enough, and that starts to turn into an expectation that can frustrate you, when it doesn’t come to pass, that can be negative.

“I found it negative how I reacted to that and it was just an accumulation of one too many races not going to plan, that was really the problem with it.”

Things appear to be much calmer in the Ganassi camp, even if the team is divided over reigning IndyCar Champion Alex Palou’s decision to leave at the end of the season. Ganassi says he has Palou under contract until 2023 but Palou says he signed to drive from McLaren. The dispute meanders through both mediation and the court system.

Dixon, who is in his 20th season with Ganassi and the team’s longest-serving driver, is not speaking to Palou and is unsure if Palou will do anything to support him in Sunday’s championship race. Ericsson speaks to Palou (as does Jimmie Johnson) and said there is no confusion about the rules of engagement at Ganassi.

“From the first day you enter Ganassi, it’s always about the team. You work with your teammates, you win with your teammates and you lose with your teammates,” Ericsson said. “It’s pretty clear to Chip that we want to win a championship. For me, I want it to be me, but if I can’t, I want (Dixon) to do it. I would definitely help.”

___

More AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.