Scott Dixon would finish 15th in the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season finale at Laguna Seca, which cost him a shot at a record tying 7th championship. Now, he enters the 2023 season, his 23rd in the sport, looking to ensure that he heads to Laguna Seca this time around, with the title as his to lose.
See, the last two seasons he’s entered the final race of the year needing some help to get a title. While he’s grateful to even be in that position, he’s hoping 2023 goes better all-around to be the one instead everyone is chasing come September.
Luckily for his fans, the Ice Man doesn’t get too wrapped up in the moments that got away. He never has. Point to an Indy speeding penalty and he’ll point you to his Nashville win. He should have won Indy in back-to-back years, but bad luck struck each time. He also shouldn’t have won Nashville last August, but good luck found him. He has always noted that a season will ebb and flow and you can’t get too high on the highs or low on the lows. It all works out in the end.
It’s why a record tying 7th NTT INDYCAR Series championship escaped him the last two years. While you can point to the start of last season to which he had just 3 top 5 finishes in the opening 8 races, you can also go in the direction that he had almost as many wins (2) in the final 9 races as he had top 5’s (3) in those opening 9 too.
Moral of the story is, he just wasn’t fast enough for the entirety of the year to seriously contend. That was the difference. It wasn’t the lack of talent. No one is better in this series than Dixon. It was qualifying (9 starts of 13th or worse) that put him playing from behind. It was that speeding penalty relegating him from 1st to 21st and going from 109 points to 33.
Now that all of that is behind him and the slate wiped clean, how does Dixon respond?
“You know, I think the outlier was definitely road courses, where we had the inconsistency either between the cars or in general,” Dixon said on Wednesday from Day 2 of INDYCAR’s Content Week. “None of us got a pole, which I would say right now the road course kind of tire and combination is probably Alex’s specialty and he’s extremely good at it, and to see him not get a pole I think was definitely something that was missing for sure.
“There was definitely some instances where we made pretty heavy mistakes, I think, on the 9 car side of just not being in the right configuration or doing silly things that shouldn’t have been done.
“But I think there was two pretty big things in the off-season that we saw that we were probably doing wrong and then also not emphasizing enough on.
“I hope that once we get to kind of the first few rounds of road courses that that understanding of what we’re missing definitely helps. I think outside of that, our other packages have been pretty strong.
“Yeah, so it’s — I don’t know, you keep working at it in the off-season is where most of the preparation is done for understanding kind of your weaknesses, and that was definitely a big outlier for us.”
2nd most wins, 2nd most podiums, 2nd most runner-ups, 2 most top 5’s, 2nd most Indy 500 poles, fastest ever Indy 500 pole speed, you name it, what more is there left to prove in an era to where it’s as challenging as ever to win here.
For a driver that said early last summer that he didn’t feel there were on a championship level yet, he also proved that you never can count him out either. Now, the question is, will he ever win a 7th title?
There’s no doubt that his career is winding down. I mean he’s been doing this for two decades now. His wins aren’t coming quite as often. But he still finished in the top 4 in the final standings for the 6th straight year and 16th time in the last 17 seasons at that. Do that long enough you’ll find titles. But can he keep doing that?
His first three titles came in five-year increments. 2003, 2008, 2013. Then, he exploded with championships won in 2015, 2018 and again in 2020. That’s three championships in a six year span including 2 of the last 5.
Dixon, has reached victory lane in just three of his last 38 starts though too.
What’s crazy is, from July 2019 through August 2020 (Gateway 1), Dixon had 11 podiums in a 15 race span. Among those 11 top three finishes were five wins and five runner-ups. Over the last 38 races, Dixon has had just 3 wins (Texas 1 in 2021, Toronto, Nashville), one runner-up (Nashville 2021) and only 9 podiums.
That’s why he’s in the position that he’s in today.
The thing is, despite being in this position, it’s not like his season has been all that “off.” Dixon still has 20 top five finishes and 33 top 10’s. The only thing absent has been turning those top fives results into podiums.
But, the thing also is, if cautions and/or bad luck came differently too, Dixon may not be behind either. He may be the one in the drivers seat instead.
For Texas 2 in 2021, Dixon was well in control of a weekend sweep until Jack Harvey brought out an ill-timed caution for him while he was leading. Same thing in the Indy 500 when Stefan Wilson’s pit road crash on the opening sequence cost Dixon dearly. He hadn’t pit yet and ran out of fuel while coming to pit road. His car wouldn’t refire and he’d lose a lap as a result of trying to get it going again. After dominating the Month of May, he’d finish 17th instead. He was caught in a crash not of his doing in Gateway of that year too while running in the top 10.
Just think of where he’d be if those three instances went differently. Then last year, think of what happens if he doesn’t speed on his final pit stop while leading the Indy 500.
That’s why I say that if luck flipped its script for Dixon, he’d be on the verge of a historic season. He could have 7 or 8 titles in hand already.
Time is against him though for that 7th. Just 10 times has someone won the title at 41 years of age or older. Three drivers were 42. One was 43 and four more were 44. No one was 45 while two drivers won at 46.
Among the drivers to be crowned a champion at 41 years old and up, only one came since 1990. With his stats declining this year and the trends not being on his side, this is a legitimate question.