It is often said that Scott Dixon does “Scott Dixon things.” Sunday was another example of that.
Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon recovered from starting 14th in a 26-car field, hard mid-race contact and trouble in the pits to win the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
On Lap 29, he was running last in the order after a penalty for emergency service of his wounded car in a closed pit. Fifty-one laps later he was in victory lane for the 53rd time in his career. Only A.J. Foyt, who holds the sport’s record with seven season championships, has more career race wins, with 67.
“It was a wild day,” Dixon said. “We had a good start. I thought things were going well, and then we came in for the first stop, and the air jacks failed or the hose failed. We went all the way to the back and got into the chaos in Turn 5 or 6 and just got rolled over the back and hit pretty hard.
“Actually, we couldn’t get the wheel off because it was stuck on the brake caliper. Took the team a lot of time to get that off, but then it ripped a bunch of the underfloor off the car as well and all of the strakes.”
Dixon said the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was “very difficult to drive,” and it lacked grip. He was holding on as best he could.
“Each time we had a restart I was just praying for another accident (to help us),” he said. “Some of those came; some of them didn’t.”
Yet, Dixon persevered as he always seems to. Need proof? Here’s some.
It was the seventh time in 14 races this season that Dixon has gained at least eight official positions from the start of the race. He went from starting 16th to finish sixth at Long Beach, from 13th to finishing fifth at Barber Motorsports Park, from 21st to finishing 10th in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, from 13th to finishing fifth and from 18th to finishing fourth in the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend doubleheader at Iowa Speedway, and from 20th to finishing eighth in the Gallagher Grand Prix on the IMS road course.
Note that with the championship battle heating up, Dixon has significantly driven forward in each of the past four races. Dixon has only lost ground from his starting position in two races this season: He lost one position in St. Petersburg and 20 in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, the latter because he was penalized for being a tick over the pit road speed limit on his final stop. He was the race leader at the time.
Dixon has gained 49 positions from where he started to where he finished this season, and that ranks second among drivers in the top five of the standings. Only Marcus Ericsson (third in the standings) has more at plus-59. Will Power is plus-29.
This was the fifth time in Dixon’s career that he has won a race from a starting position outside the top 10.
Here are the rest of the Five Things to know about the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix:
Thrilling to the End
Yes, there was a lengthy thunderstorm delay before the race began, and eight cautions slowed the action once it got rolling. But there was more than enough on-track drama to hold one’s attention.
The 80-lap race featured 334 total passes and 285 passes for position. As noted, Dixon went from restarting at the back of the order to the win. Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta literally held the last two positions – and were each a lap down – for much of the first part of the race, and somehow they finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Scott McLaughlin, the NTT P1 Award winner, was 16th after the last pit exchange and motored his way up to finish second. Alex Palou finished third with his car’s left front wing main plane flapping over bumps after contact early in the race. That damage came from contact with Power driving over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Helio Castroneves came from 26th on the grid after serving a six-position penalty for his team’s unapproved engine change to finish 13th – and like Dixon, he even endured a penalty for taking emergency service in a closed pit. Felix Rosenqvist moved up eight positions with a late charge through the field. It was like that for two-plus hours.
Not Fun for All
There was so much beating and banging of the cars that drivers took to social media to express their displeasure with one another. Others fired back. Some enjoyed it more than others.
“That’s why I came to INDYCAR racing,” McLaughlin said. “This is the best racing in the world.”
Romain Grosjean clearly wasn’t happy with Josef Newgarden following their contact in Turn 9 that knocked Grosjean out of the race on Lap 76. After climbing from the car, Grosjean raised his arms in disbelief and later he tweeted three angry emojis. Marcus Ericsson, who had a few in-race bumps with his fellow Formula One veteran, responded with a post of his own: “What goes around comes around.”
Said Newgarden: “Welcome to INDYCAR. It gets tight. … It’s tough street-course racing. Let me tell you what, I about got taken out six times myself. Probably have to have a discussion with some of the younger guys. They’re aggressive, they’re very aggressive, and if you’re not aggressive back then you get run over. That’s INDYCAR racing; you’ve got to learn that pretty quick.”
Herta Rebounds in Second Half
Where did Colton Herta come from in this race?
The driver who had wall contact on Lap 3 after two-wide contact with Dalton Kellett and spent much of the first half of the race in last place, came storming back from a lap down to finish fifth.
“I hit the wall pretty hard, and the front wing must have taken the brute force of it because it seemed like the right front (wheel) should have been knocked off immediately,” the driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian. “But we’ve seen stuff with these Indy cars, how strong they are and stuff.”
The cameras didn’t catch Herta’s charge through the field, but it was fun, he said.
“It was a crazy one, but some of it was enjoyable for me,” he said. “Some of it not so much.
“Really didn’t think that we were going to be that good after getting taken out (and) going a lap down, but the damage on the right front wasn’t terrible to the wishbones, and so it was still drivable. We still seemed to have some speed even with that.
“Once we were able to pass by some people, (it) kind of got me excited. And the guys in the pit did an amazing job getting me probably six spots on two stops, so they were pretty stellar.”
The Close Finish
Given how much McLaughlin has admired Dixon over the years, it was appropriate that he followed him to the checkered flags Sunday for the first 1-2 series finish by New Zealand drivers. Dixon said it was “really cool.”
“Which I’m guessing is the first time ever (in the series),” he said.
This also was the fourth-closest street circuit or road course finish in the sport’s history at .1067 of a second. The closest remains Mark Blundell’s .027-of-a-second victory over Gil de Ferran in the 1997 race at Portland International Raceway.
Portland also witnessed the second-closest such finish, Mario Andretti over his son Michael by .07 of a second in 1986. Third-closest was Dixon’s 2019 victory over Rosenqvist at Mid-Ohio. The two Chip Ganassi Racing drivers were separated by just .093 of a second.
“Another lap with McLaughlin would have been extremely tough to hold him off,” Dixon said. “He was just super fast, and I think (he was) just in a better situation.”
McLaughlin was asked how much more time he needed to overhaul Dixon. He was blunt.
“One lap,” he said with a smile.
Finally, Schedule Offers a Break
After five races in four weeks, highlighted by the grueling doubleheader at Iowa Speedway and this steamy weekend in Nashville, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES gets a breather with a weekend off.
The next event is the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Saturday, Aug. 20 at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois, which is just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Live coverage of the last oval of the season will be on the USA Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at 6 p.m. ET.