LONG POND, Pa. — The champion who could have been counted out is lurking once again as the most familiar contender for an NTT IndyCar Series championship.
No points deficit is seemingly insurmountable if you’re Scott Dixon, the five-time series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“Until you’re out of it,” he said, “you’re never really out of it.”
History could be repeating itself for the 39-year-old New Zealander, whose legendary career has been in large part defined by strong last-season pushes for titles. Look at his last four race results in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda: Second, second, first and second.
Three races ago, Dixon trailed points leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske by 98 points. After Dixon's sixth career win at Mid-Ohio, the margin was 62 points. Now, after finishing second in Sunday’s rain-shortened ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Dixon is 52 points behind with three races remaining, including the double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 22.
“It's definitely achievable from the point deficit right now,” he said.
Dixon reminded about his fourth title in 2015, when he trailed Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya by 47 points entering the double-points season finale at Sonoma Raceway. Dixon won, Montoya finished fifth, and Dixon won the tiebreaker.
“I think the team, even Dario (Franchitti’s) championships, were similar to that scenario,” Dixon said of the comeback trend. “The start of the year, midway you're kind of there, thereabouts, but really come on in the latter parts of the year.”
Franchitti won four series titles, three for Ganassi, as well as three Indianapolis 500s. He’s now a team advisor.
“Sometimes that down part creates determination not just in yourself but also in the team,” Dixon said. “It also allows you a little bit of difference, maybe in strategy you can take more risks, you can go for race wins. If you get on a roll, it just starts to feel good for everybody and it kind of continues a little bit longer."
Over the past three races, Dixon has outscored Newgarden 134-101. Over the past five races, it's Dixon 205 to Newgarden's 168.
Dixon is joined by the usual suspects near the top. He must first leap frog 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske in third and 2018 series runner-up Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport in second before dealing with Newgarden, the 2017 champion.
“There’s been many championships won many different ways,” Dixon said. “Josef took the lead for the championship the first race, so we'll see.”
That’s kind of how Dixon’s 2018 title unfolded in a deviation from the usual comeback routine He seized the points lead nine races in after a victory at Texas, then held on. In the last eight races, he won at Toronto, had three thirds and finished second in the double-points Sonoma season finale to fend off a challenge from Rossi.
“It’s a lot more stressful that way,” Dixon said.
In 2013, Dixon edged Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves by 27 points as he finished first, second and fifth in the final three races. In 2008, Dixon closed with three wins, two seconds and one third in the final eight starts. In 2003, he finished second in fourth of the last five starts for his first title.
Next up is Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Dixon finished third there last year and second in 2017.
“There's still a long ways to go,” Dixon said. “I think the next two will be pretty interesting. St. Louis is going to be a lot of fun. Then (the Grand Prix of) Portland will be interesting.”
So, too, will Laguna Seca, where Indy cars haven’t raced since 2004. Dixon was asked on Saturday about returning there, where he last raced in 2001. That fourth-place finish was too long ago to remember, especially for a determined champion whose eyes couldn’t be more fixated forward.
“We’ll keep our head down,” Dixon said, “and see what we can come up with for the last three races.”