Another Saturday, another victory for Scott Dixon.
One week after winning Race 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix last weekend, Dixon rolled to his third career Verizon IndyCar Series victory on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5-mile oval in the DXC Technology 600.
Dixon, of Chip Ganassi Racing, led the race’s final 119 of 248 laps en route to a 4.2943-second margin of victory over Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske. Alexander Rossi rounded out the podium for Andretti Autosport.
“Car setup was obviously phenomenal,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda. “Strategy was perfect. So it’s nice to have one of those nights. It’s not too often you get sort of a runaway, especially in the series at the moment. It was kind of cool to see for us.”
The result moved Dixon _ a four-time series champion _ past Team Penske’s Will Power into the Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead by 23 points over Rossi after nine of 17 events. Power, winner of this event last June, began the race with a five-point lead over Dixon but exited Texas in third with 321 points. The reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, Power was relegated to an 18th-place finish after a crash involving rookie Zachary Claman De Melo on Lap 205.
Dixon’s 43rd career Indy car victory broke him out of a tie with Michael Andretti for third on the all-time list. The 37-year-old New Zealander now trails only open-wheel icons Mario Andretti and all-time leader A.J. Foyt Jr. of Houston.
“It’s really cool,” said Dixon, wearing a white cowboy hat during his post-race presser. “Obviously I have massive respect for a lot of these drivers. But when you look at those names _ A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, the Unsers _ to me it still seems very strange that ‘Dixon’ is on that list, too.
“I feel very privileged and lucky to do what I get to do. I love racing. I love the Verizon IndyCar Series. I think it’s the best racing on the planet, one of the most difficult with all the disciplines. For me, man, I just hope it continues. I hope we can keep a winning style, pick up wins. It’s so difficult right now it’s so competitive.” Forty-two of his wins, Dixon noted, have come while driving for Ganassi.
Dixon previously won “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” in 2008 and 2015. His third win at TMS moved him into a tie with Sam Hornish Jr. of Team Penske, and one behind all-time leader Helio Castroneves, also of Roger Penske’s juggernaut.
Dixon’s 119 laps-led moved him from fifth to second among open-wheel competitors here with 484, dating to his first start in Cowtown in 2003.
The race was the first here run with sanctioning body INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 universal chassis built by Dallara. The sleek chassis produces approximately 100 fewer pounds of downforce in a bid to make the cars more difficult to handle, place more emphasis on driver skill and eliminate the pack racing previously associated with TMS.
The new chassis, North Texas’ triple-digit heat and a softer tire compound provided by Firestone Racing combined to raise concerns among some drivers about the quality of show during the 372-mile event.
“I think we had a few marks on some tires, but nothing that was performance for us,” Dixon said. “Definitely wasn’t a safety issue from Firestone. They knew it wasn’t going to be. They sent out a bulletin last night saying they were 100 percent behind the tire, it was going to be no problem.We didn’t see any issues out there. There were some marks on tires, but sometimes with these tracks _ the G-loads, the loading that we get _ you’re going to have that.”
Dixon added some of the concern was voiced because the weekend’s first 90-minute practice was conducted during the heat of Friday afternoon, while the race started at 7:45 p.m. (CDT) Saturday.
“The track changes significantly once we get to the nighttime,” said Dixon, who paced the final one-hour practice Friday evening. “Once the track temp goes down, the grip really comes up. I had that sensation at the end of the last practice last night. Once the track temp started to come down, the grip level really came up. I knew it was going to be a pretty good situation for the race.
“I think some may have wanted it to be a little bit more closer, but it looked like in the mid-pack, at least from my view when I was having to pass people, the racing was pretty tough. Definitely some side-by-side stuff, some action. It wasn’t just follow-the-leader. It was pretty cool to race out there.”
Pagenaud said the pre-race concerns about blistering did not affect his strategy.”I’ll tell you what,” Pagenaud said. “The biggest thing before the race I asked my racing engineer (Ben Bretzman) and I asked Cara Adams (chief engineer, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports), ‘Is it safe?’ She said, ‘Absolutely.’ When the tire manufacturer tells you you’re going to have blisters but it’s safe, you feel more confident going into the race. It’s amazing a tire manufacturer can have that kind of confidence.”
Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet, started and finished second to score his first top-five of 2018. Rossi, driver of the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda, earned his fourth top-five in the last five races.
Only nine of 22 starters finished on the lead lap in an event that produced just three cautions. The third and final caution _ for the incident involving Power and Claman De Melo _ bunched race-leader Dixon with Pagenaud, Rossi, James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport. Dixon nailed the restart on Lap 215 and his advantage grew to a massive 6.4484-seconds on Lap 244.
“Yeah, the race was smooth,” Dixon said. “Got a little tricky there towards the end. I wasn’t sure, we were kind of right in the zone to try and do that last stint without a pit stop. We had to get a pretty big fuel number. That’s what I was worried about. Simon and I kind of checked-out. I just automatically thought the others were trying to get to the end of the race without having to do that last pit stop.
“Again, pleasantly surprised once everybody pitted on the lead lap in that last pit sequence.”
Dixon’s next race will be the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France _ the world’s most prestigious endurance event _ next Saturday and Sunday as a member of Ganassi’s Ford GT program. But before packing his bags for Paris and Du Mans, ‘Dixie’ reiterated how much he enjoys competing in the Dallas-Fort Worth market and working with TMS President Eddie Gossage.
“It’s always been a special place,” Dixon said of TMS. “I think Eddie and his whole team just do a fantastic job. The track has changed throughout the years, the style of racing has changed throughout the years. That changes from year-to-year. But the way that he does it, you know, when you get to fire guns, wear cowboy hats _ ’15 since my last win, nice to get a new hat, the other one was getting a little worn out. So that was definitely a positive.
“I love coming here. This event is really cool.”
TMS PR/Photo Credit Sean Gardner/Getty Images