ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – In 2020, the numbers added up to a glorious season for Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi Racing.
The 40-year-old driver from Auckland, New Zealand become just the second driver in history to win a sixth NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship. It was the 13th INDYCAR Championship for Chip Ganassi Racing in its 30th anniversary season.
That’s a perfect way to celebrate.
“It’s huge,” Dixon said after capturing the season championship with a third-place finish in Sunday’s Firestone Gran Prix of St. Petersburg. “Absolutely, no one is going to forget 2020 for a multitude of reasons, but for what this team has achieved with Chip’s 13th INDYCAR championship -- which is crazy -- my sixth with the team and the 30th anniversary of the team, it’s really something.
“For me, it’s still cool to be part of this team. I’m 19 years in, and it will have my 20th year with the team next season, but the achievements we’ve had across the board have been fantastic. It’s a crazy year but one I will definitely remember forever.”
In addition to claiming his sixth NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship, Dixon also became just the third driver in INDYCAR history to win 50 races in his career with his victory in the first Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Aug. 29.
The next driver on the list to catch is Mario Andretti, whose 52 career wins ranks second all-time. A.J. Foyt holds the record with 67 race wins.
Dixon turned 40 on July 22 and remains the best of the best in INDYCAR.
“You’d be hard pressed to argue that Scott Dixon’s age has slowed him,” Ganassi said. “We want to keep (him) at the sharp end of the stick.”
The INDYCAR legend proved that with a spectacular start to the season delayed by COVID-19 concerns. The first race was June 8 at Texas Motor Speedway, the first of three consecutive events won by Dixon.
When Dixon wasn’t winning races, he was finishing near the front and banking away points like a squirrel gathers nuts for the winter. The more a squirrel gathers, the better off he is in winter.
“I’m definitely glad we bagged a lot of those nuts, that’s for sure,” Dixon said.
Dixon’s largest lead of the season was 117 points over Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden after the Gateway win. Despite Newgarden’s fast and furious finish to the season, Dixon had banked enough points that Newgarden simply couldn’t overcome the deficit.
Dixon won the title by 16 points.
“It was crazy,” the champion said. “We didn’t really change anything. We got into a slump there. I made a big mistake at Mid-Ohio, which we lost 20-plus points in the championship and would have had it sewn up going into St. Pete. As you expect, Team Penske and Josef Newgarden made it interesting. The championship has come down to the last race 15 years in a row, even without double points (offered at the finale).
“It was definitely a stressful season. It’s the first year I ever led the points from start to the finish. There was no complacency at all, but we had a 117-point lead and it seems like everything is going to be pretty peachy and pretty easy. But I’ve been on the other side of that.
“It was stressful, really stressful. It’s not something I dig into too much, but I did lose some sleep some nights, which was the first time that’s happened.”
Dixon led the points after every race for the entire season. He joins Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2001 and Sebastien Bourdais in 2006 to lead points all season over the past 20 years.
It’s a rarity in INDYCAR for a driver to lead the points following every race.
“Honestly, it’s always a great position to be in,” Dixon said. “But you don’t want to be one of those statistics where you lead all but the last one. It only counts if you lead the last one. It’s just like a race, it only matters if you lead the last lap.
“I’ve been on the other side of it where we’ve clawed back massive deficits and got into the tie-breaker with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015. I couldn’t imagine being on that side of the fence that he is on. It has to be so deflating. It feels great when you are the one chasing him, and you are able to pull it off. Those are the thoughts that run through your mind coming down to the last two or three races. It would have been crazy if it had slipped by considering the dominance we had early on with the points lead.
“It’s definitely rare. It’s a great situation to be in. It’s nice to go into the last race with a pretty healthy point lead. One year, I would love to not have to worry about it, go into the last race and have fun. But that hasn’t ever been the case.”
Dixon admits he probably peaked in the period of time after finishing second to Takuma Sato in the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Aug. 23, then followed it up with a victory at Gateway six days later.
He was disappointed with his performances in the ensuing doubleheaders at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
But even with Newgarden winning the final race of the season, all Dixon had to do to secure a sixth championship was finish 11th or better. He finished third.
“At no point did we have it sewn up,” Dixon said. “It wasn’t until I came out of the last corner and saw the checkered flag that I could coast from there and finish in the top 11. That was the only point where I felt we were home free.”
So now, it’s back to the numbers for Dixon, as he continues his incredible career in INDYCAR in 2021. Now that he has six NTT INDYCAR SERIES championships, is Foyt’s all-time championship record of seven a serious goal?
“Absolutely,” Dixon said with a smile. “Seven sounds a lot better than six as six sounds a lot better than five. These championships are tough. I’d love to go back-to-back. I’ve never been able to do it. There will be more than 24 others who will be trying to do a similar thing and win the championship.
“Is it in reach? Absolutely. We have to do it once more but that is easier said than done. We will try to let this one sink in a little bit, get some rest and then get back after it. It will be no easy feat, for sure.”
Dixon has proven that 40 is just a number. He remains on top of his game and considering his outstanding condition, who knows, his career could last until he is 50.
“The fire still burns hard,” Dixon said. “I love racing. Every day, I feel extremely lucky being able to do what I do, working with the great people that I do. I don’t want it to end; definitely not in the near future. We’ll keep on trucking and see how long we can keep it going for.
“But I love it, every day.”