In most years, when the NTT INDYCAR Series loads up their haulers and heads east to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, most teams know that they’re arguably fighting for 2nd place. That’s because Chip Ganassi Racing, most notably Scott Dixon, always entered Mid-Ohio as the ones to beat. The bullseye was on their backs as large as the bright red Target one was on their sidepods.
“Yeah, a lot of fond memories,” Dixon said of Mid-Ohio. “It’s a fantastic track. It’s a little bit of a bullring and one that’s tough.”
However, this year may be a little bit different. You can make a case that Ganassi is no longer the favorites and Dixon is no longer the one everyone is watching.
At one point, Ganassi had 7 wins in an 8 year span on the 2.258-mile road course by three different drivers. They’re 1-for-8 since.
“It’s gotten even harder, I think, over the years with how slippery some of the surfaces can be in different areas and especially how the weather treats it,” Dixon continued.
“I think as a group and as a team, we just haven’t been getting the job done. We’ll keep after it. I think Marcus has had a fantastic run, leading the points right now; Alex has had a little bit of bad luck. Just hoping for the whole team we can get ahead down here and fight for another championship for Chip.”
While they’re tied with Team Penske for most wins on natural road courses in the Aeroscreen era, they’re 0-for-3 during the 2022 season on them too. Can they regain their mojo in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)?
Dixon sure hopes so.
It’s weird to see him honestly flying under the radar right now. The 6-time series champion has also won this race a record breaking 6 times too. He has 15 top 10’s in his last 16 starts here at that. Seems like a contender, right?
However, he only has 1 podium in his last 8 tries on this track too and also hasn’t won a race in his last 21 tries dating back to over a year ago. On top of that, Dixon has just 1 victory in his last 30 tries overall. To put it bluntly, he’s in a slump.
The thing is, you can never count Dixon out either. Quite frankly, you never should. They don’t call him the “Ice Man” for nothing. While he doesn’t have the wins and podiums like he once had, he does have top 10’s. Dixon has 7 of them in 8 races run this season. That’s the most in the series. He’s led the 2nd most laps (122) and is tied with 5 drivers for running at the end of every race run this year.
The difference at this moment?
Top 5’s and podiums. His 3 top 5’s rank him in a tie for 5th. Will Power has the most with 6. Marcus Ericsson, Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward all have 4 apiece. All 4 sit 1-2-3-4 in points entering the weekend. Dixon is 6th.
Dixon just needs to turn those top 10’s into top 5’s and when the time calls, turn those top 5’s into podiums. We know he can do it and is exactly why the “Ice Man” moniker came from. He can get the most out of his car that’s given to him. If it’s a 6th to 10th place car, that’s where he puts it. He never goes over the limit to risk taking a top 10 car and making it a 15th place run at the finish. Which is why he’s always lurking.
He’s 69 points down at the moment. But all it takes is a string of podiums and wins and he’s right back in the thick of things. We’ve seen this before.
Dixon started 2020 off with 3 straight wins and 8 top 5’s in the first 9 races to that season. 2019 saw him begin the year with 4 podiums in the first 5 races and also go through a stretch of 6 top 5’s in a 7 race span with 5 of those 6 being in the top 2. 2018 saw a final stretch to the championship with 6 straight top 5 finishes to end the year off with, 4 of which on the podium. 2013 saw him win 3 straight races and have a final stretch of 5 top 2 results in an 8 race span.
“I think the competition has always been tough,” Dixon said. “I think for a top 5 to top 3 — top 5 has maybe changed a little bit, but to make it to the podium, I think the competition level has always been extremely tough. Are there more players throughout the field and the depth to it? Yeah, for sure.
“Honestly, I just don’t think we’ve been doing a good enough job. I think that’s what it comes down to. I think when we dissect some of the weekends that we’ve had, we’ve kind of made a little mistake here or we’ve kind of overchanged the car here or I’ve messed up in a corner that starts the lap.
“Then when you break it down now, you’re pretty much getting one or two laps in qualifying that gets the most out of the car. If you don’t hit them right, you’re just not going to press.
“Yeah, I don’t think especially in the last sort of three or four years, I don’t think that has changed too much as far as a category or as a championship. Yeah, I just don’t think we’ve done a superb job this year.”
Does he feel like this team has championship pace in it? The championship level isn’t always easy. Each team faces adversity at some point along their journey. What separates a championship winning team over the rest during that?
How you respond to it.
We know how Dixon can respond. What about his team?
“I thought the turning point was going to be Indy, he told me.
“Yeah, so there’s been lots of changes, there’s no doubt. I think on the crew side there’s maybe one or two guys that kind of have rolled over from the last two years, and I would say that’s probably the same on the stand side outside of Chip and Mike.
“There’s definitely some continuity that we need to get a little bit better. We need to kind of know what the right hand is doing with the left hand and situations like that. It can definitely be better. I think we’re working towards that.
“Definitely having a smooth weekend or getting on a roll will help that flow a lot quicker and a lot easier. But yeah, we’re working hard, man. We win and lose as a team, and I can tell you that everybody right now is giving 100 percent, and hopefully we can find our stride here shortly.”
Moral of the story here, never count Dixon out.
Plus, he’s just had some bad luck too. In each of the last two Indy 500’s, pit road and cautions ruined his race. In 2021, he dominated the month, was in the top 3 on the opening pit sequence and was running the stint long before a caution occurred on pit road before he could pit himself. He’d have to do an emergency service pit stop and also run out of fuel which ruined his day. This past May, he had similar fortunes in practice and qualifying, dominated the race in leading 95 laps but was speeding on pit road for his final stop while leading. To finish 17th and 21st respectively in each of the last 2 ‘500’s, a double points event at that, factors into these deficits too.
So does qualifying. For whatever reason, they’ve just not had the Fast 6 pace they once had. On natural road courses this season, he was 13th at Barber, 21st at Indy and 10th in Road America. It’s why he finished 5th, 10th and 9th respectively in those races.
For this weekend, Dixon does have 2 straight top 5 starting spots, but those are also his only Fast 6 appearances here since 2016 too. 7 of his last 8 have been in the top 11 though so finding that little bit of pace to get into the Fast 6 goes a long way.
40 of the last 42 natural road course races were won by a top 10 starter. 6 of the last 7 races though were won by a front row starter including 5 of which from the pole. We’ve seen 3 straight winners here from the pole and 4 out of the last 5 at that.
Does Dixon find his path back to a Fast 6 on Saturday and give himself a shot at a win on Sunday? That’s the difference right now in making a comeback for a record tying 7th title and not.