As he prepares for a final four-race charge in his bid to win a fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship, Scott Dixon doesn’t draw inspiration from the previous titles.
“You’re obviously very grateful for the four championships, but for me, the hardest ones are the ones that you lost,” said Dixon, whose titles came in 2003, ’08, ’13 and ‘15. “Those are what inspire you and keep you going. Each year, it’s about race victories that I lost out on that I think about more than the ones I’ve won.”
Since claiming the championship in his first Verizon IndyCar Series season 14 years ago, the 37-year-old Chip Ganassi Racing driver from New Zealand has been a title contender in 12 of 14 seasons. There have been so many close calls — he’s been second twice, third four times, fourth once and was sixth last year.
He currently sits a close third in the points, just eight behind leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske and one point behind Helio Castroneves of Team Penske.
And make no mistake, Dixon is still as hungry as ever in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda.
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “There can always be more. That’s what you’ve got to keep pushing for.”
He laments too many points that weren’t earned. Dixon was annoyed that he didn’t win the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where he finished third. He thought he had the car to win the next race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where he finished fourth.
Dixon won the pole for May’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and was confident he would have finished in the top five, but he was taken out in a crash with Jay Howard’s lapped car. Finishing 32nd in such an important double-points race was costly.
He thought he could have won the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, but was involved in an incident and had to settle for ninth place.
“You add up those points,” he said. “That’s a lot of points, man. But that’s why it’s hard to win.”
No driver has more respect around the paddock than Dixon. And no current competitor has more series titles. His 41 career wins, which includes the 2008 Indianapolis 500, rank fourth on the all-time list, one victory behind Michael Andretti.
“I think he’s extremely underappreciated,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 champion for Andretti Autosport. “I think he’s a legend for what he’s accomplished. I don’t want to say that too much because I’m racing against him every weekend.
“It’s been amazing what he’s been able to do. And through the eras of Indy car racing, this is the tightest it’s ever been. The data shows that. From P1 to P-last, whatever that may be, this is the tightest INDYCAR has ever been. To be consistent nowadays, it seems to be even harder.”
The top six drivers are separated by 58 points, with more than 250 points available in the final four races. Nine different drivers have won races in 13 events, led by Newgarden, who triumphed July 30 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for his third victory of the season.
“You know, there’s certain people within the series that you go, ‘Well, they’re always a threat,’” Newgarden said of Dixon. “Whether they’re fast or they’re not fast on a weekend, they’re always a threat. He’s one of those guys. He’s always going to be a threat. If he’s P10 on the charts in practice, he’s still going to be a threat. He’s just one of those phenomenal drivers you can’t count out.”
When assessing his chief competitors, Dixon obviously points to the four Team Penske cars that surround him in the standings. In addition to Newgarden and Castroneves, defending series champion Simon Pagenaud is in fourth, nine points behind Dixon, and 2014 champion Will Power is fifth.
“There’s no other team like that right now,” Dixon said of Team Penske. “Nothing comes even close. When you’re trying to win the championship, it’s tough when you have to go up against four drivers like that, but also a team with the resources and capability of Penske.”
That said, Dixon smiles when asked about the competitiveness of the series. He welcomes more drivers into the fray. That challenge drives him, too.
“It’s just competition,” he said. “I love competition. That’s what it’s all about. To be the best, you have to beat the best that’s out there. Why would you not want competition. That’s important.
“You have your usual suspects over a championship season that can be there at the end, but any given weekend throughout a season, you have a broad range of 10 to 15 people who can win. I remember the days when you’re competing each weekend with maybe three or four strong cars. I remember having a bad qualifying and being fourth or fifth. That’s not the deal now. If you have a bad day, you’re going to be 15th or worse. It’s tight and very tough.”
So there’s no time to think about what he’s done; it’s about what he needs to do. His legacy in racing can be relished when he retires.
“It’s not something that’s apparent to me right now,” Dixon said. “It’s important that I do the best I can for my team and for myself and I put the effort in. I think what everybody hopes for when they’re done with their career is they can reflect on it and be happy with what they achieved.”
Dixon and the other championship contenders will be back at it again Aug. 20 in the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. The race airs live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 2 p.m. ET.
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