Only Scott Dixon could break two massive NTT INDYCAR SERIES records in the same race.
In winning Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the six-time series champion added to his incredible list of accomplishments.
At the green flag, he started his 319th consecutive series race, breaking a tie with former Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan, whose run of series starts ended early in the 2020 season.
At the checkered flag, Dixon won his 54th career race – he’s now only 13 race wins behind A.J. Foyt for the all-time lead. As importantly, Dixon extended his mind-boggling string of winning seasons to 19. That, along with his overall number of years with a win at 21, is a series record.
“Look, 19 straight years with a win doesn’t happen by luck,” said Graham Rahal, who finished second. “There’s nobody else that’s anywhere close to that.”
Actually, Team Penske’s Will Power still has a chance to run his streak to 17 seasons, but he needs to win one of the year’s final three races.
That wasn’t all for memorable moments in the 14th race of the season. Alex Palou padded his lead in the standings to a hefty 101 points, with Dixon now second. Josef Newgarden fell to third, 105 out of the lead, with a 25th-place finish in a 27-car field.
Devlin DeFrancesco had a highlight first lap. Rahal made a valiant late charge. And Indy witnessed another spin and win, the first since Danny Sullivan in the 1985 Indianapolis 500.
These are among the topics for a Fifth Gear wrap-up.
Dixon, The Master
How does Dixon keep pulling rabbits out of his racing hat?
Saturday, the 43-year-old New Zealander had his best six corners of the season to jump from the 15th starting position to challenge for eighth when the crowd in front of him slowed for the first trip through Turn 7. But four-wide didn’t work, and Palou made inadvertent contact with Marcus Armstrong, their Chip Ganassi Racing teammate. Armstrong’s No. 11 IU Simon Cancer Center Honda got turned around, a road blockage for the trailing Newgarden, whose No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet landed on top of his car.
Dixon slowed the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda enough to avoid trouble, but he got hit from behind by Romain Grosjean’s No. 28 DHL Honda of Andretti Autosport. Next thing Dixon knew, he was sitting awkwardly in the grass on the left side of the circuit.
“I knew we weren’t out of it,” said Dixon, who admitted to a string of swear words and a few laps to regain his groove. “I was kind of bummed because I’m like: ‘Man, I had a really good start, picked up a load of spots. It was wiped out within half of a lap.’
“But I think you kind of automatically just fall back to, ‘How are we going to win this race from where we are now?’ I knew the other manufacturer was going to struggle on mileage. … I guess the biggest concern for me was trying to figure out if the tires could go that fast, especially being on the softer (alternate) tire.”
But you’ve seen this movie before, right? Remember when Dixon found himself in the middle of a dirt storm as a result of Marco Andretti’s first-lap flip at Portland International Raceway in 2018 and still escaped? Dixon didn’t win that race, but the way he wiggled out of trouble helped him win that year’s series championship.
“I think Portland was the worst,” Dixon said, laughing. “Yeah, that was crazy just in the fact that you went into like a big a dust ball. For whatever reason I pulled the clutch before I hit the fence, then the dust kind of settled. I’m like: ‘The car is still running.’ (I) got in reverse, banged out. All I was waiting on was the (AMR) INDYCAR Safety Team truck to get out of my way.
“It was actually a pretty big hit, as well. (Andretti) flipped in front of us, etcetera, etcetera. That’s a tough one to beat.”
The Eight Laps to Victory
You might have heard Rahal bemoan the number of laps it took to restart Saturday’s race following the first-lap pileup in Turn 7. He wasn’t happy that it took six.
“I asked (on the team’s radio), ‘I don’t know why we’re not going green – this doesn’t make any sense,’” he said.
The six laps of caution allowed Dixon to make a pit stop on Lap 5, creating a situation where he could complete the 85 laps on just two trips down pit road. Rahal saw it coming.
“I knew when Dixie pitted, I was like, ‘Son of a …,” he said. “You give the guy an inch, he’s going to take a mile. He’s the best at saving fuel, going fast, doing the things he does.
“I did that exact strategy two years ago, so I know it works.”
Dixon still had considerable work to do. He had to conserve fuel while minding the gap as the leader, but he is the master of that, among many other facets of his profession. He also had to keep his cool when Rahal was chewing several tenths of a second per lap in the final charge.
“I think it was just my mistake for pushing so hard at the start of that stint, and it kind of hurt the tire, otherwise I think it wouldn’t have been too difficult (to hold him off),” Dixon said. “Yeah, we made a show of it. He was coming fast, man. It would have been interesting.
“I think once he got to us, it was going to be very tough to pass. We had (a) similar (amount of) overtake (left). Yeah, the 9 car would have been really wide.”
Still, Another Good RLL Day
Rahal wanted more than a second-place finish for the No. 15 Code 3 Associates Honda, but it continued a good summer stretch for the improved Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Rahal earned his first NTT P1 Award since 2017 and nearly ended a six-year winless drought. Plus, Christian Lundgaard (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda) qualified second, and Jack Harvey (No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda) earned the eighth starting position.
Lundgaard wasn’t happy with the lap his crew chose for a mid-race pit stop, which he felt cost him a third career podium (second this season), but he finished fourth. Last month, he earned his first series victory in the Honda Indy Toronto.
“For the whole team,” Rahal said of the emotional lift the weekend provided. “As I’ve said numerous times, these guys have worked extremely, extremely hard to get here, to get this organization back on track. It’s great to see the fruits of their labor starting to show.”
Rahal said it boosted his spirits, too.
“It’s a shame not to come away with a win, but that’s the way it goes,” he said.
The Other Highlights
Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) earned the final spot on the podium with a third-place finish. He finished second to Palou in the GMR Grand Prix on May 13.
O’Ward has six top-three finishes in 14 races this season, although he and his teammates Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist are still searching for their first victory of the season.
And then there was DeFrancesco’s charge to the first turn. It is guaranteed to make the season highlight reel.
DeFrancesco had earned a place in the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in his two seasons, and he took the green flag in the No. 29 TRUBAR/Jones Soda Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport in the fifth position. But as Rossi (No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet), Lundgaard and O’Ward went three-wide in the final seconds ahead of Turn 1, DeFrancesco darted to the outside and passed them all.
Then, DeFrancesco muscled past Rahal for the lead in the middle of Turn 1.
“He made a hell of a lunge,” Rahal said. “Honestly, I was having a slight slow of the inside front. I didn’t feel totally confident to go any deeper than I did. You guys saw it. I was still full lock, using the majority of the road. I tried to give him just enough room.”
DeFrancesco certainly took it, giving him the lead for only the second time in the series.
And then there’s Palou, who is squarely on the path to winning a second series championship in three years.