MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) — Scott Dixon knows that IndyCar’s closest championship race in nearly 20 years probably would have been decided long ago were it not for a rare blunder by “The Iceman” in the races. Indianapolis 500 Miles.
Dixon was the dominant car at Indianapolis in May, leading 95 laps until a late speeding penalty took the New Zealander out of contention. Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson won the race, and because the Indy 500 is worth double points, Ericsson was suddenly thrust into the race for the IndyCar championship.
But if Dixon hadn’t been revving up, he might have scored the win or, at the very least, finished higher than 21st. Ericsson received 109 points for the win; Dixon won just 33 in a crushing disappointment that may have late championship implications.
Will Power is the points leader heading into Sunday’s season finale, a five-driver battle that is 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 off the lead, with Penske’s McLaughlin in fifth and 41 points.
Going a little slower on pit road in May likely would have sent Dixon to Laguna Seca Raceway with a sizable lead in the standings in pursuit of a record-tying seventh championship.
“Yeah, I think if we had finished in the top three, this championship would be pretty easy right now,” Dixon told The Associated Press. “But I can’t change that. Is history. He’s long gone. And you have to move on.”
Dixon recovered from Indianapolis to win at Toronto, where he tied Mario Andretti for second on the IndyCar wins list, and win number 53 surpassed Andretti when he won at Nashville in August. That second win of the season returned him to title contention, and his push from 16th to third last week at Portland made him a serious challenger for Power on Sunday.
If he wins that title, it would move Dixon to mystical number seven, the record mark in the best series in the world. AJ Foyt holds the IndyCar record with seven titles, Richard Petty, the late Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson have won seven in NASCAR, and Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton each have seven F1 titles.
Dixon doesn’t even entertain the idea of joining the exclusive club.
“It’s great to talk about your accomplishments, but I’m six, I’m not 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 motorsports or other sports in general, the seven is definitely at the top of the heap and would of course be very special. But now I’m six and those are the facts.”
Dixon and the Chip Ganassi Racing fleet used their final test of the season at Laguna Seca, while Team Penske used their final test at Portland and went 1-2 in the race with McLaughlin and Power. It has sent two Ganassi drivers and three Penske drivers to the title decider, and the two teams have combined to win 14 of the last 16 IndyCar championships.
Ganassi is the winner of the last two championships and has come out on top in 10 of the title fights, in part due to Ganassi’s philosophy of competing for the biggest organization. They see Team Penske as three singular efforts with the only team mandates being that the best driver wins.
It has created some tension on the Penske course, particularly during a Pebble Beach press event for the contenders, where Newgarden seemed distant as his rivals enjoyed their morning on the iconic golf course.
Newgarden, who has won a series-high five races this year and overcame an apparent concussion suffered in August, later revealed that he has had some internal issues this season. He sometimes had to apologize to his team and explained it 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 goes off the rails, the easier it is to annoy you. That’s been my case. Because I’m such a perfectionist, the longer I do this, the harder it gets. If you’re a perfectionist and you do this sport long enough, and that starts to wear off. become an expectation that can frustrate you when it doesn’t happen, that can be negative.
“I felt like it was negative the way he was reacting, and it was just an accumulation of too many races not going as planned that was really the problem.
Things seem much calmer in the Ganassi camp, even as the team remains divided over reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou’s decision to leave at the end of the season. Ganassi says that he has a contract with Palou until 2023, but Palou says that he signed to drive from McLaren. The dispute is going through both mediation and the court system.
Dixon, who is in his 20th season with Ganassi and the team’s longest-serving driver, isn’t talking to Palou and isn’t sure if Palou will do anything to help him in Sunday’s championship race. Ericsson spoke with Palou (as did Jimmie Johnson) and said there is no confusion about the rules of engagement at Ganassi.
“Always from the first day you walk into 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’m sure he would help.”
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