Scott Dixon wasn’t much for words following his 21st-place finish in the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The long walk down pit lane with his wife, Emma, included many hugs and apologies from the drivers he was trying to beat just minutes earlier. Ed Carpenter stopped him. Then Tony Kanaan. And Graham Rahal.
When he reached Victory Podium to congratulate his teammate Marcus Ericsson on winning “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” former teammate Dario Franchitti offered him a hug, as did Ericsson.
They were all sorry Dixon didn’t earn his second Indianapolis 500 victory, because his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was the class of the field on Sunday. But a pit lane speeding violation on Lap 175 of 200 erased his chances of adding his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy yet again. His only other “500” win came in 2008.
The only words six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon could muster to describe Sunday were simple:
“It’s heartbreaking, to be honest,” Dixon said. “I just messed up.”
NTT P1 Award winner Dixon dominated the day from the pole. Though the Kiwi didn’t lead Lap 1 – his teammate Alex Palou did – Dixon took the lead for the first time on Lap 8. From there, he and his teammate Palou, the defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion, traded the lead back-and-forth over the first third of the race.
Palou had to make an emergency stop in a closed pit under caution to fuel his No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on Lap 68, which resulted in a penalty and essentially took him out of contention for the race. From there, the race was Dixon’s to lose.
Dixon controlled the next 100 laps and led 95 of the 200 total laps, a race-high mark. As Dixon hit pit road from the lead for his final pit stop on Lap 175, he made a crucial mistake: He sped entering pit lane.
Dixon said he was pushing his orange-and-blue car all he could to keep an edge on his closest competitors. Upon entering pit lane, he locked the rear brakes, and then the front brakes. He estimates he entered pit lane just 1 mph faster than allowed.
Nonetheless, that was all it took to rip away an ice-cold drink of milk and a kiss of the bricks after 500 grueling miles at the Racing Capital of the World.
One could argue it was the third consecutive year Dixon missed a chance for victory in the Indianapolis 500. In 2020, he led 111 laps but finished second as a late-race caution ended the race under yellow and crowned Takuma Sato the winner.
Last year, Dixon had a fast car all May long. He won the NTT P1 Award for pole and led the race early, but a penalty for emergency service in a closed pit under caution early in the race trapped him a lap down. He finished 17th.
“I feel extremely bad for him,” said Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kanaan. “He's a dear friend of mine. I know how bad he's feeling. That's the kind of thing that will haunt you quite a bit for a little bit. You're going to wake up in the morning thinking about it.
“It's one thing when something out of your control happens, but when we as drivers make a mistake, it's pretty hard.”
Dixon’s longtime team owner, Chip Ganassi, who won his first Indy 500 as a team owner in 10 years with Ericsson’s victory in a wild finish, was equally subdued in regards to the mistake.
“I mean, he came down pit lane and was speeding,” Ganassi said. “He’s as disappointed as anybody, I can tell you.”
It was a frustrating end to a historic month for Dixon. He earned his fifth career Indy 500 pole last weekend, putting him in sole possession of second on the all-time poles list. To get there, he drove the fastest four-lap average speed for a pole sitter in the century-plus history of the race at 234.046 mph.
During the race, Dixon catapulted from third to first all-time in Indy 500 laps led. Coming into Sunday’s race, Al Unser was the all-time lap leader at 644, while Ralph DePalma was second at 612. Dixon entered his 20th “500” with 570 laps led.
With his 95 laps led around the famed 2.5-mile oval, Dixon elevated the record to 665 laps led in his Indianapolis 500 career on what would have been Unser’s 83rd birthday. Unser passed away Dec. 9, 2021, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
One day, when Dixon’s legendary career is finished, he will certainly cherish his place in Indianapolis 500 history and his name alongside those of Unser, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and many more. But for now, the records don’t heal the wound that is not winning the Indianapolis 500.
“I don’t know what it will mean,” Dixon said. “I’ll probably still think about the misses and not leading the right lap. You only need to lead one lap here, and that’s the last one.”