FORT WORTH, TX — 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 competition, there’s not much for the win lately. Why?
“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.”
He’s right in the qualifying sense too.
Dixon, starts on the pole for Sunday’s second race of the doubleheader race weekend in Texas. Is the race already over? 12 of the last 13 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.
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. Also, 31 of the last 40 races have been won by a driver coming from the Fast 6.
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.”