PORTLAND, Oregon — Eyebrows inevitably raised when Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon ended up just 11th in qualifying for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.
Considering Portland International Raceway’s 12-turn, 1.964-mile permanent road course is a challenging place for drivers to pass, perhaps Dixon’s plight could be the opening his closest pursuers need to have a chance at denying him a fifth series title with two races remaining?
“It’s Scott Dixon,” said Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who is 26 points behind Dixon in the standings and qualified third. “As I’ve always said, he can start wherever and still be in the front. We won’t count our chickens before they hatch.”
Dixon has made a habit of salvaging races from underwhelming qualifying runs. He has failed to start higher than ninth in the past three qualifying sessions, but the 38-year-old New Zelander still managed to finish fifth at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and third at Pocono Raceway, both in the second half of August.
“We’ll see,” Dixon said. “It’s going to be tough here. Some of those other places were a little bit easier, but we got what we got.”
The setback was particularly surprising when considering Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was third on the combined speed chart after Friday’s two practice sessions.
“Definitely not where we want to be,” Dixon said. “It’s a bit of a bummer there, kind of misjudged the shift that we had from blacks to reds (tires).”
Dixon also lamented not having banked a quicker lap, then got caught behind Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden coming out of the pits. The latter prevented him from posting a quick lap at the end of the Firestone Fast Six Shootout.
Newgarden, who is fourth in the points, qualified second. Team Penske’s Will Power, who is 67 points behind Dixon in third, won the pole.
“It’s a long race, three stops, there’s a lot that can be done strategy-wise,” Power said. “But at the end of the day, we have to win. We have no shot at (the season-ending race at) Sonoma if we don’t. We know that.
“We’ll take risks depending on the situation. We’re aware that we not only have to finish ahead of Alex and Scott, but quite ahead. If they’re in the top three, that’s difficult for us.”
The broadcast for Sunday’s 105-lap race begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts Radio Network.
“It will be interesting,” Dixon said. “Strategy still could be a deciding factor. Turn 1 is going to be interesting for a lot of people, especially for the start and restarts. I think that obviously for us, it’s just to try and stay clean and keep out of the mess there.”
Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull didn’t sound the least bit discouraged about the starting position for his champion, who has proven himself capable of just about anything in a career highlighted by 44 wins, an accomplishment ranking third on the sport’s all-time list.
“Mr. Dixon never gives up,” Hull said. “Some people have learned that the easy way and some people have learned that the hard way. We’ll be in the race tomorrow.”