LONG POND, Pennsylvania — Scott Dixon’s third-place finish in Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway was probably the best that the Verizon IndyCar Series points leader could have hoped for, even though it did chip away at his Verizon IndyCar Series points lead.
Starting 13th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Dixon came back to finish third. Normally that would be an excellent points day, but with primary title contender Alexander Rossi winning his second straight race, the Andretti Autosport driver closed the points deficit to Dixon from 46 to 29.
Ahead of the next race, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday night, Dixon will have a large challenge ahead to keep Rossi behind, given the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner’s oval prowess this season.
“Rossi’s doing a good job,” Dixon said following the Pocono race. “His teammates are struggling a bit, but he’s definitely a step above. Can’t take anything away from that, but we’ll just have to see. We’re trying to reduce the hurt as much as possible, but I think if you look at the last two races, (the points lead) has almost been halved.”
Dixon was among a half-dozen drivers in Sunday’s race to make an early pit stop under caution and it worked to his advantage. Stopping on Lap 10 under yellow as the field prepared to restart the race following a red-flag stoppage for a five-car incident on Lap 7, Dixon was able to work his way into the race lead as the cars in front of him had to make their first pit stops later under green-flag conditions. Dixon led Laps 40-42 before making his second pit stop in the 200-lap race.
The four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion spent two full midrace stints running in fourth place behind Marco Andretti, unable to advance his position.
“We got stuck behind Marco,” Dixon said. “It was just miserable. No fault of his, they were just trying to hit a fuel number, but I just couldn't do anything.
Finally able to leapfrog Andretti on the next-to-last round of stops, Dixon drove solidly in third place the final 70 laps on the 2.5-mile oval but unable to challenge Rossi and Will Power ahead of him.
“I think we did the best we could with what we had,” Dixon admitted. “I don't think our car was very good.”
With the series in the midst of three races in as many weeks, the focus quickly shifts to Gateway and Saturday’s race. Dixon finished second on the 1.25-mile oval a year ago.
After winning the Honda Indy Toronto on July 15 for his third victory of the season and 44th of his career, Dixon’s points lead had ballooned to 62. It sits now at 29 with three races remaining, including the season-ending INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16 that offers double race points.
In his most recent two championship-winning seasons of 2013 and ‘15, Dixon trailed in the standings at this point. He reaffirmed on Sunday that he would still rather be the hunted than the hunter.
“I think if you’ve got points in the bag, you’d be silly not to take that,” Dixon said. “I would hope it would be more (of a lead), but now it’s dwindling down a little bit.
“You’ve got to take the hits when they come and try and rebound as quick as possible. These things are tough, they’re tough to win.”
Tickets for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 are available at gatewaymsp.com. The race starts an hour earlier than last year, with live coverage beginning at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.