NASHVILLE, Tenn — Never count Scott Dixon out. Not now. Not then. Not ever. No matter what situation that Dixon may find himself in and a pickle he was in during Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix he more times than not, digs himself out. Dixon started 14th and moved up to 11th before his first pit stop on Lap 23.
That’s after the moment for the first caution of the race that sent this race on an upward spiral. The opening 21 laps were led from pole sitter Scott McLaughlin. Then came the 2nd caution of the race on Lap 22 for Helio Castroneves’ incident in Turn 3.
McLaughlin led those who’d not yet hit pit lane down for service. Dixon was one of them. Alex Palou however had just pit. Simon Pagenaud, David Malukas Kyle Kirkwood and Jimmie Johnson had also pit before the yellow and would cycle with Palou to the top 5.
On the Lap 25 restart, we’d see another caution when Graham Rahal ran into the back of Pato O’Ward sparking the 3rd caution of an incident marred race. Dixon though had some damage when he ran into the back of Dalton Kellett damaging the floor of his No. 9 Dallara-Honda as well as prompting a flat tire.
The car had to be fixed multiple times under the caution break sending Dixon now to the back for the next restart.
His championship hopes were looking grim at that point. He needed some help. So the 6-time series champion went off strategy and pit on Lap 50. He did so early in the pit sequence. So did Christian Lundgaard and Will Power.
As luck may have it, Rahal got into the wall on Lap 52 and Rinus VeeKay got into him. Those who pit were now in the catbirds seat so long as they could stretch their fuel.
Most drivers could get 26-28 laps on a green flag fuel stint and they 30 laps to go when they pit. This is Nashville though and cautions breed cautions. Everyone pit for their final time on Lap 54 with the exception of Josef Newgarden.
He stayed out but had 18 laps older tires than Dixon and the field behind him. He’d still have to pit 1 more time. When he did so on Lap 65, it handed the lead over to Dixon who’d lead the final 15 laps en route to his 53rd career NTT INDYCAR Series victory moving him out of a tie with Mario Andretti for 2nd most all-time and being the sole driver in 2nd behind only AJ Foyt (67 wins).
“That was wild,” said Dixon. “It was a wild day. We had a good start. I thought things were going well, and then we came in for the first stop, and the air jacks failed or the hose failed. We went all the way to the back and got into the chaos in turn five or six and just got rolled over the back and hit pretty hard.
“Actually, we couldn’t get the wheel off because it was stuck on the brake caliper. Took the team a lot of time to get that off, but then it ripped a bunch of the underfloor off of the car as well and all the strakes.
The car was bent and broken, but for us I think strategy-wise to take no tires on that last stop was probably the key. We were able to jump a couple and have enough fuel to get towards the end, and to the end, but it was very difficult to drive.”
Dixon was able to save enough fuel because there’s be another caution on Lap 64, Lap 73 and Lap 76. He was good now.
Lundgaard lined up behind him on each restart but the 2nd to last one, McLaughlin got by the Danish rookie for 2nd place before Romain Grosjean crashed in Turn 9 with four laps-to-go. INDYCAR displayed the red flag to ensure a thrilling finish and that’s exactly what we got.
Dixon lined up first. McLaughlin who’s had the most speed all weekend behind him in 2nd. Lundgaard who’s likely had the 2nd best speed was next in 3rd. The New Zealand native isn’t nicknamed the “Ice Man” for no reason. He’d get a great launch and set sails before McLaughlin made 1 more charge in the final couple of corner.
Dixon just narrowly prevailed by just .0167-seconds to etch his name back into the championship race again. He entered the weekend 38 points back but now trails Will Power by just 6 points with 3 races remaining in the season.
McLaughlin netted his 5th podium of the season and 6th top 5 including 6 top 10’s in his last 7 starts in his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet. He went from 87 points back to 58 now after a strong points weekend.
Palou finished third in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda for just his 2nd top 5 finish in the last 10 races and now turns his season back around for a potential championship push amid a federal court case against him.
The Andretti Autosport duo of Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five in a wild day.
Dixon Inching Closer To History, If Not For Indy, Could Have a Wide Lead Instead
Scott Dixon is now 14 wins shy of tying AJ Foyt for most ever. He’s one championship way from tying him for most all-time (7) as well. His 49 runner-up finishes only trail Mario Andretti’s 56. His 130 podiums now are 14 shy of Andretti for most ever too.
He’s 2 top 5’s away from tying Andretti also.
At this rate, we’re severely undervaluing Dixon here. This is a generational driver and all year the narrative has been what’s wrong with Scott Dixon. He didn’t look very Scott Dixon like all year but maybe he actually was.
Dixon didn’t have good enough cars capable of winning on most instances. He took care of the car and would salvage good finishes still. No one had as many top 10’s this season than Dixon did. He now has 13 in 14 races.
It was just he wasn’t getting many podiums. He now has 8 top 5’s which is 2nd best in a season that has produced a lot of parity. His podiums were the difference. Out of those 8 top 5’s, he just now has 3 in the top 3. However, 2 of the 3 are wins and each have come in the last 2 street course events.
His winless drought spanned a full year until he crossed the finish line first last month in Toronto. Now luck is back on his side in Nashville to give Dixon 5 top 5 finishes over the last 6 races.
The thing is, while he’s only 6 points out, just think of where he’d be if not for that speeding penalty at Indy. Dixon was dominating that race in well in a position to win on May 29 before hitting pit road for the final time in the closing laps. He was narrowly speeding. It relegated him to a 21st place result.
Imagine if he had won.
We’ve seen this script before. Watch out..
Great Points Weekend For McLaughlin
Scott McLaughlin should be disappointed. 2nd place is he first loser. He was dejected after feeling like he gave Josef Newgarden a win earlier this season in Texas. The New Zealand native led a race-high 186 laps that day but Newgarden passed him around the outside on the final lap to win a photo finish.
Fast forward to Sunday in Nashville. McLaughlin was 4th in practice on Friday. He was quickest in Saturday morning’s session and even won the pole later on in the day. He had a car more than capable of a win.
He didn’t. He finished 2nd in another photo finish. This time to countrymate Scott Dixon. It’s the 2nd time in his career he’s finished 2nd to Dixon. This one though felt different. McLaughlin had every reason to be stunned that cautions let this one get away from him. However, he was happy with the points that he accumluated instead.
McLaughlin entered the weekend 81 points out of the lead. He leaves 58 back. That puts him back in the mix. He felt so yesterday in fact.
“Yeah, the belief is there absolutely,” he said on Saturday on if he feels like a title could still be won by him. “I’ve said it all along, I feel like a little bit of an underdog in this. There’s no reason why we can’t go on a run. These are four tracks that I really enjoy.”
So far so good. Plus you have to look at what he says coming up. He had a podium at Iowa last month and that short oval package suits he and his Team Penske organization really well. He was also 4th at Gateway last year which is the site of the next race. For Portland he notes he out qualified his teammates and feels like his car could be even quicker this time around.
He’s been on top of the game on natural road courses in general this season. Then it’s to Laguna Seca to close out the year.
“Really excited for this final run,” he continued. “Anything can happen. It’s INDYCAR. We have a solid week, focus on ourselves, who knows what will happen.
“Yeah, certainly a position I’m not unfamiliar with, that’s for sure.
“Yeah, certainly a position I’m not unfamiliar with, that’s for sure.
“Ultimately, top five is a massive goal, and then to win it would be an absolute bonus, but certainly still believe that we’re as good a shot as anyone to win it.
“I guess I’m the outsider. We can risk a little bit more and have a good time doing it. Yeah, I’m looking forward to throwing a few more sort of risky moves and trying to get myself in contention because I’m not unknown to winning championships. I know how to do it. It’s a matter of having a car to be able to do it.
“If we roll up to each track in the next few weeks with the car that we had, we should be in pretty good shape.”
McLaughlin now has three straight top 4 finishes and 6 top 10’s in the last 7. He could have won Sunday though as he led the first 22 laps before pitting for a caution that helped the 4 cars that had already pit prior.
He’d lead the cars on his strategy still until he didn’t. On his final stop, he had a slow one which dropped him to 16th in the running order. They never gave up. McLaughlin quickly went from 16th to 7th and as the cautions kept falling, he kept advancing one restart at a time.
“I was just pissed off, so I just dropped the hammer,” McLaughlin said. “I felt like the seas parted, man, on the restart, and I passed all these cars. Jeez, I was quickly in 8th, and then there was another restart, and I passed two more, and another restart, passed a couple of more. Crap, we could have a go here. Passed one guy on the last one, and I’m, like, come on, Scotty, let’s go.”
He got to 2nd with his sights set only on Dixon. He just didn’t have enough for the final dash for the win.
“I was thinking a little bit of points as well,” McLaughlin says on that final restart. “This is going to be a good points day with Ericsson out. And we’re always back there, Justin is behind me, Alex as well. We were ahead of him. Pato as well.
“At the end of the day, we just had a really good race today, and we did. The opportunity was there a couple of times, and then just it probably would have ended up with us both in the fence if I took it. We just missed out.
“But to battle one-on-one with Scotty right where, Texas last year, I didn’t really battle with him, I just wanted to bring him home in second.
“Today I had a full go with him, and it was awesome. That was probably one of the top three best things of my career to date, that race.”
He says that if the race was 1 lap longer he has no reason to believe he wasn’t going to pass Dixon.
“I think if we had one more lap. I was alongside him, so I think I would have passed him, and I would have won the race, but that’s — if it was an 86-lap race, I would have won the race, but it was an 85, goddamn it. I’m going speak to the promoters. Why don’t we add a little more next year? But then I might be another foot.
“That’s just motor racing. That’s why we love it. I think it’s a testament to INDYCAR. I was 16th with a fast race car. Sometimes in motorsport, if you have a fast race car, you can’t pass, i.e., the European series.
“I genuinely was able to pass, smash under brakes, do this, do that, have the best run of my life, and it’s a testament to the race cars that we build and the packages that we have at INDYCAR. That’s what I have come here racing, the best race in the world.”
Much Needed Podium For Alex Palou
Sunday’s 3rd place result for Alex Palou had to feel like a race win for him. Yes, he’s still winless this season and entering unchartered territory to become one of the few defending series champions to not win a race in the championship defense year. He’s 0-for-14 in 2022. It’s entering a year since he’s last won as that came at Portland in Sept. 2021.
We go there in 2 races.
“I think we started the year great,” Palou said. “We did a lot of mistakes, and we had a bit of unlucky time at some races, which cost us a lot of points, but everybody has some unlucky races.”
Some of that was also due to the fact that Palou’s character was being questioned. It’s had to affect him. He told me just last week that it’s hard to keep his mind off of his future. He feels like he’ll be with McLaren in 2023. But that’s up to the courts.
Today was the first extended chat that he’s had with Chip Ganassi since he announced this bizarre move in July. This wasn’t handled right from the get go which is why this is now being fought legally.
“We didn’t really have a chat one-to-one since then, but yeah, I mean, it’s good right? We just finished on the podium, it was a good day, it was a good day for the team overall with Scott finishing P1, so it was nice. Like, I have no issues at all.
“We spoke like when we see each other in the trailers and stuff, and it’s not like we avoid each other.”
Asked if he was surprised to speak with his team owner in the Nashville aftermath, Palou said no.
“It’s not like last year he would be happy if I finished top five… Top three, even if Scott hadn’t won the race, I think he would come and congratulate. He’s happy he has a car on the podium.”
A current team suing their current driver is messy. So for that driver to produce a 3rd place run, well that’s special.
You can absolutely tell this was affecting him. Since the calendar turned May, Palou had 1 top 5 finish in the last 9 races run. Now he has 2 in the last 10. Can he mount a serious charge at a championship still?
He’s never thought differently. Palou sits 33 points out with 3 races left. He knows at this point, it’s time to end that drought though and maybe have to turn those podium feelings of wins into just that – wins in general.
“I think maybe four races to go we were, like, this amount of points back to Pato,” said Palou. “We just need to win, to be honest. It’s okay to finish third and fourth and fifth and stuff like that and be okay, but we need to win.”
He says that Gateway isn’t the likely place to end the streak but the west coast final stretch is the best opportunity at doing so though.
“Probably not the next race because, yeah, it’s not my best, but I’ll need to win the last two races to get a chance. We’ll do the best. We’ll prepare the best we can.
“Yeah, I think the last two races are probably our best opportunity for the 10 car.”
Does he feel like he has the teams best interest to win the title?
“He wants one of his cars to win the championship. We cannot all three win but he wants one car to win, so I don’t think I’m getting less stuff or not so much attention than others. Otherwise, I would say it, to be honest.
“So yeah, I think we have a fair shot for sure.
He started in the Fast 6 and inherited the lead on pure luck with a caution flying just after he hit pit lane for the 1st time.
“Yeah, it was nice to be at the start. I think it was quite good that we started at the front. We had some good pace. Got a bit lucky on the first yellow there. That called me into P1. Scott, the No. 3, was a bit faster than us, and then we got a bit unlucky on the second yellow.
“Yeah, I lost a position with Scott McLaughlin on the restart. I couldn’t really put temp into the turns like he did. He did an awesome job. I had to get back to the podium, so that was the only chance we got, and, yeah, glad it worked out.”
Hell Of A Rebound By Andretti Teammates Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi
Colton Herta qualified 23rd. He crashed in qualifying on Saturday. His Nashville weekend was looking nothing like the last one a year ago. Early on in the race, Herta had contact and had to pit for repairs which dropped him down a lap.
Not long after, Alexander Rossi got off course in Turn 10 sparking the first yellow of the race. He too would drop a lap down afterwards.
Now, Herta and Rossi were bringing up the rear.
They lucked out though with the next 2 cautions. The Lap 22 yellow brought them back to the lead lap. They’d elect to pit right after we went green to hopefully not only avoid losing a lap, but to have fresh tires. It worked. There was a quick caution on the restart to not only put them back in it, they’d not be able to pack back up to the back of the field again.
The race was on.
Herta drove up to finish 4th with Rossi in 5th. They made brilliant passes all race and proved that they had cars capable of winning if they could have started further up front.
“This place is pretty wild,” Rossi said. “I think that’s as good as a win. Huge thank you to the team for hanging in there.”
“I’m happy with how we came back, not only from starting at the back, but also being a lap down at some point that doesn’t happen too often,” said Herta.
Power, Ericsson and O’Ward’s Bad Days Lead To Tighter Points
Someone has to win this year’s championship. Just when you think things can’t get any tighter, they do. Coming into the weekend, 81 points separated 1st to 7th. Leaving?
It’s down to 59.
That’s right, just 59 points are between leader Will Power and Pato O’Ward with 3 races remaining in this year’s championship. That’s because 3 of the top 5 drivers in points entering this weekend each finished outside the top 10 on a chaotic race in Nashville.
Power was dealing with problems all day and limped home 11th in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet. The only reason he remains in the lead is because Marcus Ericsson had a worse day in 14th. The two were near each other all race.
Power leads Ericsson by just 12 points. But because Dixon won, he passes Ericsson in the standings in going from 4th to 2nd and trails Power by only 6 points heading to the off week.
Josef Newgarden finished 6th and is only 22 points out while Palou and McLaughlin’s podiums and Pato O’Ward’s DNF move the duo ahead of O’Ward in points now but only 33, 58 and 59 points behind respectively.
This is going to be a heck of a fight for the title.
If you go back to the start of the 2019 season, we’ve had 16 races on these tracks with 9 different winners. Josef Newgarden (4 wins), Marcus Ericsson (2 wins), Scott Dixon (2 wins) and Colton Herta (2 wins) are the only multi-time winners.
The big teams are strong on them with Penske winning 7 of those last 16 races, Ganassi with 4 and Andretti each with 3 wins themselves. Arrow McLaren SP is the only other team to have won.
Combined, the entire top 6 belonged to Ganassi, Penske and Andretti.