That was Scott Dixon doing Scott Dixon-like things on Sunday in the Grand Prix of Portland.
Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon put himself in position to win his record-tying seventh series championship – that would equal A.J. Foyt’s career mark – at this weekend’s season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
From starting 16th to finish third in this race, to third in the standings with one race to go. That’s what Dixon seems to do year after year.
Dixon and Josef Newgarden trail series leader Will Power by 20 points, with Newgarden keeping second by virtue of his five wins to Dixon’s two. Power can secure his second series title by finishing third or better at Laguna Seca, but as so often happens, Dixon is lurking like the tiger he is late in so many seasons.
This is the 11th time in the veteran driver’s 21 years in the series that he will go to the final race with a chance to win the championship. That’s remarkable, especially after overcoming a poor qualifying effort in this one.
“We’ve got to stop getting these ‘most improved’ in races,” Dixon said. “It’s simply frustrating.
“In qualifying, we don’t know what happened. We were super quick on black (Firestone Firehawk tires), was second in our session and couldn’t (advance to the second round). So, that was tough.
“Starting 16th with the competition we have now and no real cautions (in this race), we had to drive through the field today. But we’re still in the fight.”
Dixon’s signature move Sunday was capitalizing on a battle between Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi in Turn 2 following the race’s only restart on Lap 88. A few corners later, Dixon had the opportunity to pass Pato O’Ward for third place after O’Ward got caught in a damaging fight with Power for second. O’Ward blocked Dixon, and race control ordered O’Ward to give Dixon the position.
“That restart was vintage Dixon,” longtime friend and former teammate Dario Franchitti said with a big smile.
Dixon said he knew Newgarden “had gone in deep,” and that was his chance to pounce.
“He carried the corner through with (Rossi) and that enabled us to get both,” he said. “We tried as hard as possible on that last one.”
Now, Dixon and his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda head to Laguna Seca, a place where Chip Ganassi Racing tested last week with all four cars. He finished third there last year, 10 positions ahead of Power and two ahead of Newgarden.
“Anything is possible,” Dixon said. “We’ve seen it. We’ve won (championships) on tiebreakers before.
“We’re in it, and we will never give up as a team until it’s over. It’s going to be an interesting one. It’s pretty tight, I think, between three or four cars, and ultimately if we can be there, we’ll try everything we can do.”
Title Contender Nuggets
Remember this moment: On the pit stop exchange at Lap 48, Power collected a bonus point for leading a lap in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet even though he wasn’t the leader.
Scott McLaughlin had the lead in the No. 3 Freightliner Team Penske Chevrolet, but his pit box was in front of the start/finish line; Power drove past McLaughlin, and the scoring line, to his pit box, then came out of the pits behind McLaughlin. Nonetheless, it was a point toward Power’s ledger.
McLaughlin secured the two bonus points for leading the most laps in the race by Lap 60. He will head to the season’s final race 41 points out of the series lead. He is one of five drivers mathematically eligible to win the title.
“It’s a shot,” he said.
Lundgaard Slips Late in the Race
If the sign draped over Christian Lundgaard’s front wing late in Sunday’s race wasn’t bad enough, having to watch David Malukas speed past his car in peril was.
Lundgaard’s No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing collected the sign after overshooting Turn 1 in an attempted pass of Andretti Autosport’s Rossi in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. The sign was placed in the runoff area as a deterrent to cutting the corner, and Lundgaard couldn’t avoid it. Then, he couldn’t shake it, a situation compounded by the fact he had to drive most of the way around the 12-turn, 1.964-mile permanent road course to get it removed.
It was a significant blow not only to Lundgaard’s chances for a strong result – he was running eighth at the time after starting third and scored as high as second – but also to his opportunity to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Lundgaard finished 21st, seven positions behind Malukas in the No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD. Lundgaard was the last car on the lead lap.
They two rookies head to the season finale separated by just five points. Lundgaard leads.
Daly’s Hot Shoulder
A wild sequence in the pits led to Conor Daly’s retirement from the race.
The crew of the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing had trouble with the fueling, and an abundance of it spilled over the back half of the car. A fire broke out.
The fire appeared to burn out as Daly drove down pit road, but he wasn’t sure if it did without incident.
“I felt like it was in the cockpit,” he said of the fire. “It was kind of nerve-wracking for a while. I said, ‘I think my shoulder is, like, burning.’ But I could see the fire was going out, so I was like, ‘Well, let’s keep going.’ I was hoping that science and wind would take care of the rest of it.”
The fire burned the clutch, making it impossible to continue.
“Usually fire does damage, so that’s what happened,” he said.
Odds and Ends
- Rinus VeeKay’s contact with Jimmie Johnson at the end of the front straightaway brought out the race’s first caution on Lap 84 of 110. The last time an INDYCAR race at Portland went flag to flag without stoppage was in 2007 when Sebastien Bourdais won.
- Graham Rahal, who finished fifth in the No. 15 Quartz Engine Oil Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, said he expects his wife, Courtney, to deliver their second child this week. Rahal’s race finish was his second-best of the season. He finished fourth in Toronto.
- U.S. Olympian sprinter Fred Kerley, a silver medalist in the 2021 Tokyo Games, rode in the back seat of the Ruoff Mortgage Fastest Seat in Sports. The 27-year-old Texan did it right, too, screaming “whoo” and “yeah” with excitement during the pace lap. Kerley’s local tie was winning the 100-meter World Championships this summer in Eugene, Oregon.
- Next weekend’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES action begins Friday with the first practice at 5:30 p.m. ET, with live coverage on Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
- Indy Lights will conclude its season next weekend with a doubleheader at Laguna Seca. The Saturday and Sunday races will be on Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network.