FORT WORTH, TX — Scott Dixon did Scott Dixon things again on Saturday evening from the Texas Motor Speedway. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver passed his teammate Alex Palou for the top spot on Lap 2 and would lead 206 of the final 210 laps en route to the dominating victory in the Genesys 300.
Dixon, had to hold off fellow New Zealand native Scott McLaughlin on the final restart and never looked back in his No. 9 Honda for his 51st career NTT IndyCar Series victory and second straight on the 1.5-mile track including three in the last four years. He’s now scored five of his 51 total wins at Texas in general.
The win also breaks a tie with AJ Foyt for most seasons with at least one win at 19. He’s also now one win shy of tying Mario Andretti for second most wins ever in series history. The last three Texas winners ended up winning the series championship too. Can Dixon make it four straight? He’s won on this track in 2018 and again in 2020 and he won the title in both years too.
McLaughlin, earned his first career Indy Car top 10 finish with a podium effort in his No. 3 Chevrolet. He was the best Penske in the field as he crossed the finish line .2646-seconds arrears of Dixon.
Pato O’Ward finished third in his No. 5 Chevrolet for his fifth career podium and eighth top five finish in 25 starts while Palou and Graham Rahal rounded out the top five.
Here are my main takeaways.
Ganassi/Honda Class Of The Field Again
Last year, Scott Dixon and his then Chip Ganassi Racing teammate of Felix Rosenqvist ran 1-2 for a majority of the Indy Car race at Texas. This year, it was all Ganassi again. In fact, Dixon led 206 of the 212 laps run on Saturday evening. New CGR driver Alex Palou led the other six in his No. 10 Honda for Ganassi leading all 212 laps run.
What’s amazing is, three of their four drivers were in the top six on the speed charts in the practice session prior to the race with Tony Kanaan being P1 and Dixon P3. Then, to go out and do what they did, it was telling in the sense that they were one of the only teams that didn’t test at Texas during the offseason.
“There was definitely some choice in that, right?” Dixon said on them choosing not to test at Texas. “We all get a certain amount of tests. They’re obviously very limited now. I think we get three in the off-season, which is kind of mind-boggling. I think we definitely need to get to more of those.
“This was our strongest track, right? You kind of learn that it’s a doubleheader, then you start second-guessing your choices of what you did. I think what we really needed to focus on was our road course package. We’d been very strong in previous years. I think ’19 I had maybe the best qualifying average, then in ’20 that was a real problem for all of us on the team. It was definitely an area we needed to work on. I think it was great to see three of us make it through to the Fast Six at Alabama.
“Then tonight, you never are really sure. I think it’s just always a lot of second-guessing because you’re not sure what other teams are able to gain through that whole day, plus I think they got two hours the previous day to try some of the new aero pieces on the car.
“Yeah, I guess we were confident, but the tires changed, the ambient changed, the aero changed. There were a lot of different changes that we didn’t know how they were going to apply. With an hour and 15 minute practice, it’s hard to do big sweeps.”
Now, they’ll start the race on Sunday 1-2 on the front row.
The win was Honda’s fourth in the last six years at Texas as they’ve done so in dominating fashion. They swept the top four finishing spots a year ago and led 159 of 200 laps. In 2019, Josef Newgarden stole the win in the end, but Honda led 194 of 248 laps and took four of the top five finishing positions including six of the top eight even.
In 2018, Honda led 162 of 248 laps and took eight of the top nine finishing positions as well.
Combined, that’s 727 laps led out of the last 909 laps run (80%). The only Chevy driver since 2019 to lead at Texas has been Josef Newgarden.
On top of all of this, Honda put 8 cars in the Fast 9 at Indy last year, swept the top 4 finishing spots and led 180 of 200 laps.
2nd Straight Dominating Race On Season
Colton Herta led 97 of 100 laps in last Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete. Scott Dixon led 206 of 212 laps in Saturday evening’s Genesys 300. For a series that prides itself in stiff competiton, there’s not much for the win lately.
“It’s super tight, man. Honestly you kind of make one mistake, you know you’re going to be buried in qualifying. It just makes that so much more tense,” Dixon said.
“For me, race weekends, the qualifying is probably the most stressful part of the race weekend. The race is a little more relaxed in some sense. To see what Colton did, obviously Andretti has been very strong. We’ve seen the speed from Rossi and all the guys on that team honestly.
“But it just shows I think there are no real small teams in INDYCAR any more. A lot of them are big powerhouses. For the full season, Andretti engineer five or six cars, with Indianapolis they’ll be engineering eight cars. There are some big teams now. Us going to four, Penske at four. It definitely makes it extremely tight.
“The problem too now is the pit stops and the strategy, everyone is going to try something because they know how to work it. I think that’s what makes it tough. I think we have to be careful.
“St. Pete for me was not a fun race just because of the shortening of it, made it an easy two-stopper for everybody. You took out that kind of strategy. I think you always have to have a solid two-stopper and solid three-stopper. When they merge through the end, even the middle of the race can be intense, crazy, create the passing you need.
“INDYCAR need to be very cognizant of making those decisions on race links. A 10-lap shortened St. Pete made it for a very, very different race.”
Dixon, starts on the pole for Sunday’s second race of the doubleheader race weekend in Texas. Is the race already over? 11 of the last 12 series races have been won by a top three starter. He’s won three of the last four races on this 1.5-mile track.
But, Dixon questions on if you can take much out of Saturday’s race and apply it to Sunday other than confidence and momentum.
“Obviously that feeling good situation is not just for me, but the whole team,” he said. “I think it was so great to see the success of the 10 car right out of the box, see a lot of smiling faces that maybe haven’t had a smooth roll in the past few years. They had glimpses of it, but to have a strong start, what Palou has done. Marcus deserved much better results than he’s had.
“I think the moral on the team is very important. Tomorrow is going to be different, the conditions are maybe going to be a little bit tougher just because of the ambient, more of a day race, maybe a little more sunlight on the track, which I think it will be good. Hopefully there’s more deg for a lot of cars. It doesn’t guarantee you anything.
“I think you can see from the race, if you slip up at any point, it can definitely cost you a lot of spots. To try to get back on that, it takes you a little bit of time. Maybe we’ll see more variants tomorrow because it’s slightly longer, add an extra stop to the race. Just the competition on pit lane is super intense for a lot of people now.
“Yeah, you got to take them where you can, man. Tomorrow is going to be super tough, I know that. It doesn’t guarantee us anything. We should have a pretty good starting spot, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything.”
But, Dixon dominated last year. His teammate in Alex Palou led the only six laps that Dixon didn’t lead on Saturday. That’s 212-for-212 for Ganassi. With Honda leading 80% of the overall laps at Texas since 2018, with Dixon and Palou sharing the front row on Sunday, isn’t this their race to lose still?
“Obviously if we knew what that was we’d try to replicate it at a lot of different places,” said Dixon.
“I think this track is kind of coming to be a bit like Kansas used to be for our team, where we would just go there and it would be somewhat of a pack race typically. The Target car at that point, a Chip Ganassi car would just check out. Dan won there, I won there, T.K. won there. I don’t know if Dario did at some point. It’s just one of those races we’d turn up, you’d almost guarantee a podium finish.
“Here is definitely very different. It’s very tense racing here. You never really have a time to settle because the ultimate line is quite tight. The traffic is extremely tough. The pit road in is very tough. They’ve made it a lot easier on pit road exit because of the two-stage pit limiter. Just getting the pit stops right. The degradation of the tire. When you get to those in and out laps, it becomes very tricky.
“For me, this is an extremely tense race. I can’t tell you why our team has been so successful here. I just hope that it continues.”
Dixon said that his car was pretty close this year compared to last in terms of the setup department too.
“I think there’s always off-season kind of developments,” Dixon said.
“There was definitely four or five items that all of us needed to get through in that 75-minute practice which helped decide some of the changes on the car. Ultimately fairly close, right? You don’t want to step too far out of the box. Our car was very dominant last year. Actually all three of us were very good in the race.
“Yeah, pretty close I’d say. A few springs here and there. It depends on the tire all the time. That was the hard thing for us coming to this race, is that we didn’t come here and do this test. We were left leaving a lot to kind of the imagination to see how it was going to roll off. Ultimately T.K. went out, went straight to the top of the charts. Obviously the car was pretty good and close to last year’s car.”
Race Looked Like Last Year, PJ1 A Problem
Last year, Scott Dixon and the second Ganassi car ran 1-2 for a majority of the race. It looked nearly the exact same on Saturday evening. Alex Palou ended up sliding to fourth and even the guy in that 10 car last year, in Felix Rosenqvist, moved into second in the interim.
Dixon, dominated last year in leading 157 laps en route to the win and backed that up with 206 laps led on Saturday.
That’s one thing, but the other is the lack of passing. It’s unfortunate too. Texas used to be one of the most thrilling races behind the Indianapolis 500 on the schedule. It’s now become the absolute worst. I won’t mince words here. Texas is a terrible track for Indy Car. While they’ve been a great partner for the series since 1997, it’s just tough to watch these races anymore.
I get the pack racing days are long gone and shouldn’t come back. I’m not advocating for a return to that. But, we’ve gone too far the other way and it’s not Indy Car’s fault.
See, they’re trying here. They admitted past faults of going too far in the wrong direction to separate the field from one another. The early races of the DW12 were snoozefests. So, INDYCAR worked on some downforce levels as well as with Firestone on getting more downforce and a bit of a harder tire to tighten things back up.
The problem is, if you do too much of both, you can create a pack race again. So, you have to be careful for which the levels you work in. Then, factor in the usual Texas heat and you get a tough track to get right.
But, ever since the repave as well as the Turns 1-2 reconfiguration, Texas has been downright abysmal. They added PJ1 traction compound for the 2019 NASCAR races to improve their show but in turn, it hurt Indy Car’s.
Last year was a mess. No one could pass due to that compound. While it’s sticky and works for a second lane for NASCAR, it makes it like ice for an open wheel car. They tried to clean it off more since last June there. Track officials say it’s just a stain. They even worked in the tire dragon in that area of the track. INDYCAR added more downforce to their cars. Firestone brought in a new tire again.
It still didn’t work.
No one dared to go into that darker area of the track because once you did, you’d crash. Just ask James Hinchcliffe.
“From my perspective, you just can’t use the second lane,” said second place finisher Scott McLaughlin. “It’s very difficult at three and four, and at one and two. Unfortunately that’s just how it is. That’s all I’ve experienced here, so that’s all I know. I still think you can get some reasonable runs, but it just makes you probably a little bit nervous to maybe throw down on the high side into one or into two.
“I saw firsthand what happened to Hinchcliffe. He got dirty air pushed up, went up onto the PJ1 and he was gone.”
Third place finisher Pato O’Ward agreed.
“From my side, same as Scott. Honestly I didn’t really try going up there,” said the Arrow McLaren SP driver. “I didn’t want to make a stupid mistake and hit the wall. But it’s still a no go zone in my book.”
O’Ward said that he does feel like they made the racing package a little bit better, especially from very high deg to low deg tires when guys have many laps on them or brand-new. He thinks we saw more passing around, but it’s still “really, really tough. Honestly, all around I just feel more confident, this is my second time, second race here in Texas. That makes a big difference.
“But, yeah, I think it was a step in the right direction. It’s not quite there to be able to make the race as crazy and chaotic like an Iowa. I feel like it was kind of like a Gateway in a way, in a speedway version obviously. There was some passing but not quite two lanes.”
Race winner Scott Dixon said that he felt like he wasn’t sure what effect the PJ1 had on the race but he does feel like it’s to a point to where “everybody tries to steer clear of it.”
He said that the only time you could even dare to use it would be earlier in the run, but once you keep going on the bottom, the marbles start to accumulate on that area of the track too and makes it even more of a problem. .
“In practice I made a couple passes round the outside in one, and got maybe half the car on there,” he said. “But I think there’s a lot of us, as we went through these long green-flag runs, I didn’t really want to get up there not because of the PJ1, I think it might have been okay, what they’ve done to the application, running tires over it, taking a bit of it off has definitely helped the difference.
“But once you do get these long green runs, there’s just a lot of marbles up there. As we saw from some of the accidents, probably most of them were just getting into the dirty part of the track.”
As to how you can change it?
“Yeah, I don’t know,” said the six-time series champion. “I think it’s something that definitely a lot of us need to look at. It’s got to make sense. Maybe we do need to come here and do a two or three or four day test to try to figure it out.
“You don’t want it to be easy. The direction we went this year, I didn’t really enjoy it just because the deg didn’t seem as much. It was easier if we had qualifying, like I already said, going to be easy flat for everybody. This is meant to be difficult. It’s not meant to be easy.
“But the good cars are meant to be fast, and the other cars that maybe haven’t got their setups sorted out will struggle. You would like to see a lot more of that.
“Last year I think probably 25 laps into a stint you were onto lap traffic and passing through, whereas this year it was almost 40 laps or maybe a little bit more. The pack was a little bit tighter. But still when everybody goes the same speed, it makes it very tough to pull a move off.
“I don’t know. I don’t think there’s always an easy answer. I think this has been true for INDYCAR and CART and a lot of different formulas, Formula 1 the same thing. You have to be careful to make sure that it doesn’t become like a DRS situation where it’s too easy. It’s got to be difficult.
“I know there’s definitely some ideas in the works. Hopefully we can get to a track and actually apply them and test them. It’s too hard to show up and try to think they’re going to work.”
We have 372 more miles of racing on Sunday which will be in completely different conditions as Saturday. Does anything work?
McLaughlin Happy With Unexpected Runner-Up Finish
Scott McLaughlin knew coming into this weekend’s that he was facing a tall task. This would be his first oval start of his racing career. Yes, he had been on the Texas Motor Speedway before for a offseason testing session as well as taking part in a two-day Indy 500 open test a few weeks ago. But, none of that was in racing conditions. This was new.
McLaughlin, also only had one short practice session on Saturday to get used to everything. That includes what he said was learning the draft, the dirty air, the weight jacker, all the tools inside the car and everything else.
He had 90 minutes available to do so.
Still, he shared his excitement to try out a new experience.
“I think I’m more excited for the ovals than I am for the road courses because it’s so different to what I’ve done before,” he said on Wednesday of this past week. “It’s so fast. Just nothing that’s quite as exhilarating as going 220 miles an hour with people wheel-to-wheel.
“That’s what’s so cool with INDYCAR racing, what’s so pure about it, what makes it so different to any really sport in the world, is we have a vast difference in tracks. We got a road, we got street courses, ovals, big fast oval, short ovals. It’s pretty cool and requires a whole different type of discipline which is what I’m really excited about for this weekend.”
McLaughlin, started 15th but brought his No. 3 Chevrolet home runner-up in Saturday’s Genesys 300. It was his first career top 10 in just his fourth career Indy Car start. He did so on a track that’s become difficult to pass on.
“Well, it’s definitely the most happy I’ve ever been finishing second,” said the rookie driver. “It’s one of those things where a little bit unexpected just because I knew how tough it was going to be sort of getting through the field. But, yeah, things fell our way. For it to happen on an oval is a pretty proud moment.
“A lot of preparation. I’ve worked very hard behind the scenes looking at footage, talking to my teammates about where we can get better. Really proud to have been able to deliver tonight when I needed to. The boys on the team put me in position. I was able to deliver. That’s what I’m really proud of.”
McLaughlin though was helped by not pitting before the opening of two cautions during the race when his Penske teammate Josef Newgarden got into the back of Sebastien Bourdais and sent his No. 14 Chevrolet into the Turn 2 SAFER barrier.
McLaughlin, was one of just 14 cars that had yet to pit, but three of those 14 were already a lap down. McLaughlin’s pit crew got him out inside the top 10, then he steadily moved up the rest of the way. On the final pit stop on Lap 164, he exited second.
He’d restart the race one spot behind Scott Dixon in the closing laps and would get a tutorial on how it’s done from his countrymate as he’d ride in his wake the final stint.
“Look, I’ve been watching Scott since really 2001 when he first joined PacWest, around that time,” McLaughlin said of Dixon. “Then obviously when he went to Ganassi and won the championship in 2003. ’08, the Indy 500. A big fan, a massive fan.
“So to follow him and race him towards the end, have genuine pace for him, was pretty cool. I said to the guys in the caution period, This is pretty cool, isn’t it? I think they were trying to calm me down a little bit. It was cool. Probably too happy finishing second. Definitely you won’t get me like this ever again. I’m sure hopefully we can go one better next time.”
McLaughlin, would cross the finish line just .2646-seconds behind Dixon and now moves up to sixth in the standings heading into Sunday’s XPEL 375 on Sunday.
“I had a tremendous amount of fun, about as much fun as I thought I was going to have,” he said. “The PPG Chevy was great. We also had great strategy calls, pit stops. The crew on pit road were unbelievable. Have to thank them a huge amount.
“It’s a big thing taking on my first oval race. Just tried to get through the first few laps. I was pretty cautious, probably too cautious in my first stint. Just sort of worked up to it. Managed to dodge the Bourdais wreck, which was pretty close for me. Then the Hinchcliffe one which put us right there.”
As to if he’s comfortable heading back to the same track one day later? He said that he’s more comfortable in dirty air, how he needs to sort of adjust his driving style, what changes inside the car he can do to help himself in dirty air, stuff like that.
“What moves I can do,” he continued. “Like the restarts I felt really strong tonight. I made a couple moves in the early parts at the start, went sort of outside into three, a few others. That worked out good for me. Was a bit of a chance, but you got to try them sometimes.”
But does he overall feel comfortable in these cars on ovals?
“Still haven’t (laughter),” he said. “I think I’ve still got a bit of time before I’m comfortable. I don’t think you’re ever comfortable. Rick Mears told me as well. I said, I’m still nervous every time I go out on the track. I don’t know what to sort of feel, quite numb initially. When it’s numb, it’s quite nerve-wracking.
“He said, You’ll never get rid of that.
“He won the Indy 500 four times. I totally understand that.”
McLaughlin said that he physically feels fine and that it’s definitely a different art to racing on an oval.
“Yeah, a lot more mentally tiring than physically obviously. The road course, you’ve got to really wheel it. With the power steering — no power steering, stuff like that, it hurts at the end of a race. St. Pete was probably one of the hardest, physical races I’ve done for a very long time.
“But the oval is completely different. I don’t feel sore, I don’t feel anything. I have heaps of padding and stuff like that. The mental game, figuring it all out, reading the track, what it does, it’s interesting and very draining mentally.
“I got caught out midway through the race, just how fast the track was picking up grip, getting faster and faster. I settled in as I was going, what lines I could run. Kind of nice to follow Scottie there, see what lines he was running, too. That was a nice thing.”
Rahal/Newgarden Have Rebound Races From Bad Lap 56 Sequences
Graham Rahal unfortunately had just pit before Sebastien Bourdais brought out the first caution of the race on Lap 56. That put him a lap down as he now had to take the waive around to get back on the lead lap. But, the track position was really gone. He was at the back of the pack in a race that was difficult to pass in.
Same could be said for Josef Newgarden. He hadn’t pit yet, but was the reason for the caution though too. Newgarden, got into the back of Bourdais to spark the crash as he was later penalized for avoidable contact.
The Team Penske driver exited pit lane under the yellow in fifth but would have to go back to 20th due to the penalty.
But, when you look at the final box score, you’d see Rahal in fifth and Newgarden in sixth. It was Rahal’s fifth top six result in his last six Texas starts. He had one in his first eight Texas tries. Newgarden, scored his 89th career top 10 in his 151st start and his third straight top six finish at Texas for himself. He had no top 10’s in his first seven starts at Texas too.
Newgarden, was in danger of really having to start to panic in terms of the championship after his 23rd place result in the season opener. But, following a runner-up last weekend, he moved into 10th in the standings. Now, he actually moves up three more spots to seventh and is 43 points arrears to Dixon.
It could have been much worse.
Rahal, is ninth, 47 points out.
Rough Race For Andretti
The rough start to the 2021 season continues for Andretti Autosport. Yes, they won last weekend at St. Pete with Colton Herta, but the other three had rough gos of it. Alexander Rossi backed up being on the wrong pit strategy in Barber to getting into an incident with Graham Rahal at St. Pete. He finished ninth and 21st respectively in his first two races of the season.
James Hinchcliffe had a problem on pit road in Barber and got into an incident with Takuma Sato in St. Pete. He had finishes of 17th and 18th himself.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Herta were collected in that first lap crash in Barber while Hunter-Reay had a rough day in St. Pete for his finishes being 24th and 14th respectively.
Then, when you get to Texas and seeing qualifying rained out, Herta rolled off fourth, but Rossi, Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay would start 16th, 20th and 21st respectively. With a track that’s become so difficult to pass on, it was the dagger before we even got started.
Hinchcliffe crashed on Lap 160 and finished 23rd. Herta had a brake fire while running fifth to finish 22nd again. Hunter-Reay was never a factor and came home 16th. Rossi, was a benefit of that Lap 56 caution since he had yet to pit, but he couldn’t hold that track position. He’d fade to eighth.
Now, they’ll start on entrant points again on Sunday which means they’ll roll off from 10th (Herta), 15th (Rossi), 19th (Hunter-Reay) and 20th (Hinchcliffe). Not ideal.
- 10 of the last 11 winners have come from a starting spot off the front row. Scott Dixon’s win last year was the only exception since 2011. In fact, he’s the only race winner to have a top five starting spot since 2015 with last year and now this year.
- From 2003 though Race 1 of 2011, there were 11 straight races to where the race winner came from the top five of the starting lineup. It’s only happened four times in the last 10.
- 12 of the last 13 series races have seen the winner come from a top 3 starting spot including 14 of the last 19.
- 35 of the last 36 races saw the eventual race winner come from a top 10 starting spot. Simon Pagenaud (23rd) last July in Iowa is the only exception since the 2018 season finale.
- 31 of the last 40 races have been won by a driver coming from the Fast 6.
- Few cautions may occur too. We’ve had 4 of fewer in 12 of the last 14 Texas races run.
- Since the new car came out in 2018, the “Big 3” have won 43 of the 51 races run (84-percent). Penske has won 22 times with Ganassi (12) and Andretti (9). But, RLL is next best with four victories while no one else has more than three.
- Throw in RLL and you get 47 of 51 races won by these teams.
- If you go back to 2016 though, that number stays the same. The “Big 3” have won 69 of 87 races run in that time frame. Throw in RLL and you get 76 of 87.