Scott Dixon enters today's GMR Grand Prix (noon ET, live on NBC) in a rare position: Always the bridesmaid. Never the bride.
In the last three NTT INDYCAR SERIES races on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Dixon has finished second to the Team Penske teammates that have dominated the track: Will Power in 2017 and 2018 and Simon Pagenaud in 2019.
Last year, Dixon came the closest ever to winning on the IMS road course. Dixon led a race-high 39 laps and appeared to be en route to victory until rain picked up with 10 laps to go and he lost front grip. That allowed Pagenaud to close the gap on the five-time series champion quickly and make a thrilling pass for the lead in Turn 8 on Lap 84 of 85.
Dixon has taken the second-place finishes in stride, understanding that the strength of the INDYCAR paddock has made wins tougher to achieve.
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“There's days where you get a win and you never really knew it was coming, so you've got to take the highs with the lows, but I think still finishing second and having a fairly dominant day is something to be proud of,” said Dixon, who topped the final practice session before the 80-lap race with a lap of 1:11.0771. “But yeah, these wins are harder and harder to get. You just roll with it, man. You kind of roll on both sides, and if you keep knocking on the door, eventually it's going to open.”
After knocking on the door for three consecutive years, Dixon is hoping that 2020 is the year he visits Victory Circle as a winner at IMS, something he hasn’t done since he won the Indianapolis 500 in 2008.
Dixon has multiple reasons to be excited heading into the second race of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. Most notably, he enters the race as the most recent winner on the series tour.
Dixon has never arrived to the GMR Grand Prix as the previous NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winner, and only twice since the course was added to the schedule has he entered the race with a win already in the season.
Dixon won the Grand Prix of Long Beach in 2015, two races before the GMR Grand Prix. In 2016, he won the second race of the season, at Phoenix Raceway.
One month ago, Dixon won the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Dixon said the win was a great systems check for his team to confirm the work they put in over the offseason would pay off. And being the only winner of the season thus far certainly gives Dixon an edge over the field entering Saturday’s race.
“I know we had been working extremely hard on just trying to fix some of the issues we had last year,” he said. “We had some new people, plus a ton coming back over from the GT program. The engineering depth and everything got a lot stronger, so development was good through the winter.”
Plus, Dixon’s excitement for the first-ever INDYCAR-NASCAR tripleheader weekend is palpable. The historic weekend will also feature the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard at 3 p.m. Saturday and the NASCAR Cup Series’ Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records at 4 p.m. Sunday, both live on NBC.
This is the first time that the two biggest racing series in North America have shared the same racetrack on the same weekend, and it’s an event Dixon has been anxiously awaiting.
“I’ve been excited as soon as the NASCAR-INDYCAR doubleheader was announced,” he said. “It’s fantastic. I was a bit saddened only because I think that would be something great for the fans to see. I hope it’s something that will progress to more in the future. I just feel very lucky and very privileged to say we are going racing this weekend in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.”
Dixon hopes that by winning the first oval race of the season and the first INDYCAR race of 2020 at the Racing Capital of the World will bode well for his chances to win the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, Aug. 23.
The 47-time race winner said one of the problems the team worked on over the offseason was its performance on ovals. Dixon didn’t win a race on an oval in 2019.
His best oval finishes in 2019 were two second-place finishes, at Iowa Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Outside of those two races, his best oval finish was a pair of 17th-place finishes in the Indianapolis 500 and at Texas.
“It's definitely one of the focuses,” he said. “I think we've worked a lot on our deficits from last year. I think with what we've been able to do with adding Marcus (Ericsson) to the fold has created a lot of opportunity with new people coming into the mix, plus more engineering staff from the Ford GT program, which has been huge in the offseason to try to process some things, try to fix some of the issues. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
“I think we've made some good progression. I think having two great teammates that have had some good miles on ovals to try to help the process of these short practice sessions, to get on top of it, it's going to be big for us as a whole.”
The last time Dixon won at Texas Motor Speedway, he turned it into a championship performance in 2018. Defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden did the same thing in 2019.
If Dixon were to capture his sixth series championship this season, it would inch him even closer to the record of seven series championships, owned by the legendary A.J. Foyt. Additionally, Dixon is in sole possession of third on the all-time wins list, just five wins behind Mario Andretti in second. He is 20 wins behind the all-time mark Foyt set, which is at 67 victories.
“It feels amazing, don't get me wrong,” he said. “For me to even be kind of listed with those names is amazing. It doesn't ever really sink in, to be honest. I feel very lucky and privileged to do what I do, to get to race with the best in the world. To still have A.J. and Mario come to the track, I think that's the coolest thing. And the Unsers, a lot of legends of the sport. I don't know. I just feel lucky and very privileged to be with this team, able to come here and try to win races.”
Dixon isn’t letting the pressure of record books get to him. While he appreciates the mark he has made in INDYCAR history, his focus isn’t on being known as the best in the series. He’s just here to win. And not be a bridesmaid.