MONTEREY, Calif. – Team Penske drivers finished first, second and fourth in this year’s NTT IndyCar Series Championship. The only other team driver in the top four was third-place finisher Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing.
That honor means nothing to Dixon.
The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion started the weekend just 20 points behind championship leader Will Power. Dixon’s attitude towards finishing second, third or fourth in the championship doesn’t interest him at all.
“We were involved in a few of those,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “That’s what we’re in business for. Two goals – Win Indianapolis 500 and win IndyCar Championship. That’s your goal for the whole season.
“I just want to win the championship. Second, third, fourth – whatever. Winning is what it’s all about.”
Going into the race 20 points clear was a number Dixon said would be “annoying” for a Championship leader.
“The way I see it, 20 is a pretty annoying number when you’re the leader,” Dixon explained. “It is very accessible. A 30 or 31 point lead would have been very different. This makes your window much bigger. Twenty is an annoying spot.
“As a leader, you want to make it as easy as possible. At St. Pete in 2020 we only had to finish ninth and finished third. Both Josef and I stormed through the field. In the end he won the race and I did what I had to do.
“You just have to keep going and what will be will be.
“The problem for Will is if the strategy flips or there’s a mechanical problem, it’s an extremely fair game. But with 30 points it would have been a different situation.
“Ultimately we will find out in the race.”
Unfortunately for Dixon, he never got the chance to find out. Power started on pole and picked up a point for the championship. As the race progressed, Power’s position dropped from third in the race to fifth.
With Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou winning the race by 30.3812 seconds over Josef Newgarden, who also started 20 points behind, Dixon had no chance of fighting for the title. He started the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda in 13thposition and finished the race in 12th placeth.
“We were hoping for some other things with bookings and how that would play out,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “Ultimately, our tire grade was not good enough at the beginning. That definitely stopped us.
“Later in the race the car definitely came alive in the last two stints but by then it was too late.”
Dixon finished third overall, 39 points away from what would have been a record-breaking seventh NTT IndyCar Series Championship.
Instead of Dixon, 42, winning the championship, it was Will Power, 41, of Team Penske, who won his second IndyCar championship.
“I think his performance this year showed a different willpower,” Dixon said. “That was good for him. I’m really happy that he won the championship. He’s done a damn good job all year. He definitely deserved it, but he did it in a way he doesn’t normally do.
“Maybe we have to watch what he brings next year.
“Congratulations to him on the most poles in IndyCar history (68) but we’re going to be fighting for 7th next year and we’re going to fight him to get there.”
Both Dixon and Power are still capable of winning races and championships. They set an example for the younger drivers in IndyCar to follow.
Although this was a season not only serving youth; it was issued. In the end, the championship was decided between three of the most successful and experienced drivers in the series – Power, Newgarden and Dixon.
“It’s never a question, it’s a question of how we can improve the program and every race we come to,” Dixon said. “It’s never about age, mate.
“I’m happy for Will, man.”
Dixon believed the rough nature of the track was perfectly suited for his teammate to win the race, which he did by leaving the rest of the field in a different zip code.
“It’s like Alex’s ultimate stretch, this low-grip scenario, if you’re in the zone sometimes that’s just how it is, man,” Dixon said.
Palou’s future remains highly uncertain. According to team owner Chip Ganassi, he has an option on the driver from Spain in 2023. Palou has signed a contract with McLaren for the coming season.
The dispute is currently in mediation but could end up in court later this year.
Who would Dixon would love to see the #10 Honda next season?
“It’s not my decision man, we’ll see what happens in the offseason,” Dixon said. “Hopefully they can do that. Congratulations to Alex on winning the last race. He did a damn good job today.
“He had great speed and it was great to see this side of the team win.”
With 41 points between the top five, this was the closest points race between places 1-5 since 2003 when it was 30 points. The driver who won that championship was a young mate from Auckland, New Zealand named Scott Dixon.
Nineteen years later, Dixon was in contention for another championship.
Of Dixon’s six championships in the NTT IndyCar Series, 2015 was the closest when Juan Pablo Montoya held a commanding lead and Dixon essentially had to lead the table to win the title.
On a lap 41 restart in the final race of the season at Sonoma Raceway, Power and then Team Penske collided with Montoya, sending Montoya into the pits for repairs.
When the race was over, both Dixon and Montoya were tied on points, but Dixon won the 2015 championship based on more wins that season.
“Even then it was close because Montoya hit back,” Dixon recalled. “That was even wilder because of the circumstances and the tie-break.
“Hey, I would have welcomed that again. It would be fantastic to win by a point. That’s the name of the game.”
Dixon has won championships by wide margins and tiebreakers. Anyway, championship is championship and the rest counts as a disappointment.
“They’re all satisfying because they’re all accomplished so differently,” Dixon said. “They come from big deficits to lead all season, whatever it is. They are like children. You love them all the same, but maybe you treat them differently.
“The first championship is certainly big.”
Dixon has a great life with his bubbly wife Emma, two daughters, Poppy and Tilly, and an energetic 2-year-old son named Kip.
What title is Kip?
“He’s the madman, so probably 2015,” Dixon said.
Once again, Dixon came close to another championship but failed to secure the seventh title that would tie him with the great AJ Foyt for most IndyCar championships.
“Of course you think about it, but it’s not seven until you have seven, and we don’t have seven,” Dixon said. “Talking about it is only hypothetical.”
After Sunday’s race, seven remains a hypothetical number for Dixon.
Scott Dixon’s quest for a seventh IndyCar championship ends at Laguna Seca originally appeared on NBCSports.com