At 37, seemingly very much in the marrow of his highly successful Indy car career, but as a generally understated kind of guy, Scott Dixon has never had much need to discuss his ever-gilded legacy as he’s constructing it.
There will be time for that, one day, he insists.
Press him further and he’ll smile or purse his lips in a contemplative way and offer, “I dunno, man” as a final polite prompt for an off-ramp from the line of questioning. One day, likely multiple seasons from now, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver should have much to say.
At least he’ll have plenty of material, no matter what happens after his win Saturday in Race 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. It wasn’t merely the first win of the Verizon IndyCar Series season for Dixon, perpetuating a streak in which he has now claimed victory in 14 consecutive years. With his 42nd all-time win, the four-time series champion tied Michael Andretti for third on the all-time wins list. Above him are A.J. Foyt with 67 and Mario Andretti with 52.
That’s a lot to talk about. Eventually.
“I feel very lucky and very privileged to be in this sport. It's a very tight-knit family group, I think, and to be on this one team obviously for 16 or 17 years, it's a very tight group of people,” Dixon said following Saturday’s victory on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile temporary street course at Belle Isle Park. “We win and lose together as a group, and we've won 41 races together. I had another one at PacWest earlier in my career, but I feel very proud of them and being able to work with some of the best in the business.
“I think we're also very lucky, too, to still have A.J. and Mario and Michael still involved to a very high level in the sport, and the legends and what they've done for all of us is really gratifying to see. … For me, I love racing. I feel very lucky to do it, and while I'm here, I want to do the best that I can. You know, winning is why we're in this business, and that's why we're going to come back (Sunday) and try and get No. 43, but that's easier said than done.”
Dixon has loosened the reigns to his private side some recently, with a “Born Racer” documentary focused on him set for release later this year. It might need a sequel, as Dixon keeps finding new routes to immortality.
This time, the New Zealander used a blistering early race pit stop and two flawless late restarts.
“It’s nice to get that first win (of 2018) out of the way,” said Dixon, who finished second in the INDYCAR Grand Prix and third in the Indianapolis 500 – the two races last month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading up to the Detroit race weekend. “We came up a little short in the first few races.”
Dixon led 39 of the 70 laps. The top six finishers and seven of the first eight utilized Honda engines in the home race for Chevrolet.
Ryan Hunter-Reay placed second, 1.8249 seconds behind Dixon, followed by Andretti Autosport teammates Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti.
“It was really hard. That guy’s one of the best in the business. I knew it was going to be tough,” Hunter-Reay said of Dixon. “Sitting in his dirty air, I just couldn’t make up the gap.”
Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power, who entered the race with a two-point lead in the standings over Rossi, finished seventh as the top Chevrolet runner. Rossi assumed the points lead, sitting four points ahead of Dixon heading into Sunday’s second Detroit race (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
Rossi quipped that Dixon passing Michael Andretti on the all-time wins list is “not going to go down well.”
“That's our job now,” Hunter-Reay played along. “That's what we're going to talk about every morning, not to let him pass Michael.”
“I think that Scott Dixon is synonymous with a lot of us as we respect him as probably not only as one of the best drivers in Indy car history but also in the world, and it's a pleasure to race against him. Any day that you can beat him is a good day,” Rossi said seriously. “I think he definitely had the upper hand on us today, and he's been strong all weekend. We've got four very good cars that we can go analyze tonight and hopefully draw all the strengths together and come up with a package to beat him.”
Dixon started second and stalked pole sitter Marco Andretti, putting his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in position to ultimately seize the win. Andretti pitted off the lead on Lap 23, making it back onto the track after an 8.4-second stop. Dixon came in a lap later, but blistered out with a 7.1-second stop that allowed him to recycle to the track ahead of Andretti.
“We wanted to stay as close as possible just in case they pitted quite early,” Dixon said. “We knew they kind of had to get to Lap 20 to make it work anyway, and then we started to pile on the pressure a little bit there to be close on that pit stop exchange.
“In that process, we were trying to save as much fuel as possible to make sure that whenever they did pit, we could go a lap or two longer and that's how it played out. As soon as he peeled off, we used a ton of (push-to-pass), that good Honda power there, and threw in a big lap time. The pit stop was flawless, too, and we were able to jump him.”
Graham Rahal, who began the race as the only driver on the more durable Firestone primary tires, moved into contention by Lap 30 but clipped a curb with the right front tire of his No. 15 United Rentals Honda and slammed the concrete wall hard between Turns 13 and 14 on Lap 47, ending his race in last place.
Dixon, who built leads as large as 15 seconds, fended off a challenge from Hunter-Reay on a Lap 53 restart following Rahal’s crash and another restart with 10 laps left to secure the win. The final caution was caused when Charlie Kimball punted rookie Santino Ferrucci into the Turn 7 tire barrier. Kimball was later penalized for avoidable contact.
With the Ganassi outfit downsized from four drivers to Dixon and second-year Ed Jones, the universal focus within the team appears to be milking these moments and reminiscing later.
“At the time, you don’t really think about all of that,” said Mike Hull, managing director of the team. “You focus on winning races. Winning today was like winning the first race with Scott. The first race we won with Scott was (at) Homestead in 2003. It’s been a great ride to this point for us.
“What Scott does so well is that he represents the culture of Chip Ganassi Racing. He’s a teammate, a team member. It’s something that you’ll look back on and say, ‘Man, that was awesome to be a part of.’ But for today and now, we’re happy to come home with the win.”
Catching Foyt on the wins list is a fanciful dream. Mario Andretti, however, could be plausible. Someone suggested on Saturday that 50 could be doable.
Then it was suggested if 50 was a goal, 52 to tie Mario Andretti would make just a slight addendum of aspiration.
“Well, 53,” Dixon responded.
Finally, he’s talking about it.