Scott Dixon hasn’t become a four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion by happenstance. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver enters this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto with a 33-point lead in the standings, much of that gap preserved by some “defensive” driving in the most recent race.
Dixon finished 12th at the Iowa Corn 300 on July 8, four laps behind race winner James Hinchcliffe. But the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda saw just 12 points trimmed from his championship lead on a day when it could have been much worse at the 0.894-mile oval.
"I don't think we really had the weekend we wanted to in Iowa after having a string of five or so podiums over the last six races,” Dixon said. “We stayed with it as best we could, though, in the PNC Bank car and had a reasonable points day with some of the other top point contenders having issues in the race. So, it's on to Toronto where we've had some success in the past.”
Starting sixth at Iowa, Dixon never made up ground on the first stint and wound up being lapped by leader Josef Newgarden on Lap 51. He would only briefly get back on the lead lap twice during rounds of green-flag pit stops the rest of the 300-lap race.
After getting mired back in the pack and trapped a lap down, Dixon’s plan shifted to damage control and preserving his points lead.
"We kind of got stuck behind (Alexander) Rossi on the first stint, and his pace really backed us up,” Dixon said. “Each time we tried to change lanes, his spotter must have been telling him where I was going, and he was putting the block on. But that's how it goes sometimes in oval racing. It's nobody's fault or anything like that.”
With fellow title contenders Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay running inside the top five much of the race, Dixon risked losing a significant share of his points lead. So, he set about accomplishing one thing he’s become famous for over the years: finding a way to persevere and move forward.
With only two caution periods, a record low for Iowa, the race turned into a grind. Dixon and others mired in the pack were forced to move forward on pace and strategy through long green-flag fuel runs. The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran did just that, maintaining a spot in the top 10 as the race entered the final 50 laps.
But a critical mistake on what was supposed to be his final pit stop prevented any more advancement. Dixon’s front tires were inadvertently put on the wrong sides of the car, causing it to mishandle on the challenging short oval. It forced Dixon to make an unscheduled stop on Lap 261 and change tires, dropping him 15th place. He regained three spots in the final 40 laps.
Fortunately for Dixon, Hunter-Reay had mechanical issues of his own and finished 19th. Alexander Rossi, who, like Hunter-Reay, entered the race 45 points behind Dixon, finished ninth. Newgarden saw a potential race win evaporate into a fourth-place finish, so the points damage to Dixon was somewhat mitigated.
The New Zealander leads Newgarden by 33 points heading to Toronto, with Rossi 41 behind and Hunter-Reay 52 out of the lead.
“The points worked out well for us,” Dixon said. “Obviously, with (Hinchcliffe) and (third-place) Takuma Sato finishing where they did, it helped us a lot to take points away from Newgarden. Hunter-Reay had a bad day, Rossi had a pretty bad day.
“I think points-wise we only lost about 10 or 12. That’s not so bad.”
Dixon heads to Toronto, which has been good to him in the past as well. In 13 previous races on the temporary street course, he has two wins, seven top-five results and an average finish of 7.77.
Practice begins Friday, with Verizon P1 Award qualifying set for 1:55 p.m. ET Saturday (and a same-day telecast at 5 p.m. on NBCSN). Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.