My Scott Dixon feature for Sunday’s PPG 375 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) at Texas, “this should be a fantastic weekend for us,” he tells me

Scott Dixon has been here before. Sunday’s PPG 375 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) will mark Dixon’s 25th career NTT INDYCAR SERIES start at the Texas Motor Speedway. In what will be the most starters here (28) since 2011, any sort of advantage is worth capitalizing on.

No one has as many starts here than the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Ed Carpenter is next best. He has 22. Helio Castroneves has 21. Will Power and Graham Rahal each have 16 starts here respectively. Takuma Sato (14), Josef Newgarden (12) and Simon Pagenaud (12) are the only ones in double digits.

It’s that feat as to why they’re the usual suspects up front not just here, but at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway too. These drivers have won 10 of the last 11 INDYCAR races on the 1.5-mile Fort Worth area race track and why they should be favored once again in INDYCAR’s second race of the 2023 season.

How much of an advantage is being a veteran here and why?

“I think if you use it wisely, it helps,” Dixon told me on being a veteran at Texas. “I don’t know. I always kind of approach it two different ways. I think the first time, for example, like when I went to the (Indianapolis) 500 the first couple years, you’re kind of blown away by so many different things that you just don’t focus on the specific. Things maybe kind of cycle yourself out of it or you become too obsessed with it, things like that.

“What I’m saying is sometimes it’s better to not know what’s coming than all the times that you’ve been there. Especially for a lot of us, too, some of us veterans, we used to race there twice a year so we have done a lot of races there throughout our careers.

“Yeah, I think as long as you use it in a meaningful way, it’s always good. But, again, I think sometimes if you’re a rookie or somebody that’s coming for the first few races there, it’s sometimes better not knowing the possibilities of what could come or might happen.”

Dixon has led more laps (1,043) than 16 of the other 27 drivers in Sunday’s field have completed here. Four more drivers are within 157 laps more of Dixon’s career lap led total.

For Dixon, it’s also a chance to capitalize on a good track of his. In those 24 races here, Dixon has five wins, 17 top 10 finishes and 14 top fives finishes. 4 of his 5 wins have occurred since 2015 including 3 of the last 6 overall. He’s had four straight top five finishes and led 677 laps since 2018.

In a series that has come down to the season finale to crown a champion for 17 consecutive years now, how important is it to the six-time series champion to maximize points on a track that he’s so good at.

The other thing is, he’s in a mix with Pato O’Ward and teammate Marcus Ericsson on top of the points already. This was the St. Pete podium earlier this month.

Scott Dixon in the season opener at St. Pete. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

3 of the last 4 years has seen the champion podium in St. Pete. Also, out of the last 18 years, the eventual season champion scored a top 10 finish in 17 of those 18 season openers. They’ve accumulated 8 wins and 14 top 5’s in the process including four consecutive podium finishes.

Between Dixon and O’Ward, they’ve combined to have won 3 of the last 4 Texas races. Ericsson finished third here last March and won the Indy 500.

In a series to where points are hard to come by, if these three can open up a bigger gap leaving Texas, then watch out.

Afterwards, it’s to Long Beach to where O’Ward was fifth last April. Dixon was 6th. Ericsson has won 3 of his 4 career races on street courses. Two weeks after is a visit to Barber, a race O’Ward won last season. Dixon was 5th. Then a pair of races at IMS ahead in May awaits. O’Ward has 3 straight top six finishes in the Indy 500 including a runner-up a season ago. Dixon has won the pole in each of the last two Indy 500’s, while Ericsson was 4th and 1st respectively in the pair of May races a season ago.

Then returns to the downtown streets of Detroit is a week after.

That’s why I’m curious how well Ericsson, Dixon and O’Ward look in Texas.

“Yeah, I think it’s big,” Dixon said of starting off the season hot. “I think every weekend’s now, just with the competition level, how tough it is, I think for us, as you just said, it kicks off a pretty heavy stretch of a lot of weekends on the road, which is extremely tough for the teams as well.”

Also a benefit is that Dixon drives for one of the big teams in the sport too.

It’s not a shock that Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing swept the entire top 7 of the finishing results of of last year’s XPEL 375. They’ve won each of the last 10 INDYCAR titles including 14 of the last 15 overall. They’re the true “Big 2.”

Last March, no one had anything for them all day, but that’s not all that surprising in the sense that both have now combined to have won 7 of the last 9 Texas races too. RLL and AMSP are the only exceptions with Graham Rahal’s win in 2016 and Pato O’Ward’s in Race 2 if 2021.

So for Penske to take 3 of the top 4 finishing spots and have now either won or finished second in each of the last 7 Texas races, there’s no reason to question their pace here.

Ganassi played second fiddle to Penske last year in Texas but in Indy, it was Scott Dixon leading 95 laps, Alex Palou 47, Marcus Ericsson 13, Tony Kanaan 6 and Jimmie Johnson 2. That’s 163 of 200 laps (82%) and the win.

For Texas, Penske led 209 of 248 laps (84%).

So, in the first race back on these tracks, did anyone do enough this offseason to close that gap? How hard is it to maintain your advantage in one area of the schedule while others are chasing you and you’re actively searching for improvement elsewhere?

“I don’t know. I think your off-season focus, at least for us, for myself, is always kind of your weakest moments, you try to improve on it,” said Dixon to me on Tuesday afternoon. “So yeah, I guess you maybe do focus in and maybe spend more of your time on some of those things.

“There are tracks that you’ll go to, you feel like you’ve got a little bit more in your back pocket, but you can’t rely on that. I think that’s the biggest things I’ve noticed probably in the last four or five years, even two or three, is just the depth of the field has changed a lot. There are no small teams any more. All the teams are very competitive. All the driver lineups are very competitive and very successful, as well.

“Yeah, it’s just become, you know, harder I think wherever you go. Doing your homework before you get to the track, trying to understand what you really need to get right on the weekend, I think is rewarded a lot.

“Yeah, I guess time management is always a things. Luckily we’ve had a little bit of time off before this one to kind of soak up what we did at St. Pete. We had a test in Barber, then obviously moving on to this one, three very different circuits.

“But, yeah, looking forward to this one. I think it’s going to be definitely with a lot of the development and off-season work that the team has done, this should be a fantastic weekend for us.”

The last seven races on this track (all in Aeroscreen), Penske and Ganassi have dominated.

In those last seven years, Penske and Ganassi have combined to have taken 15 of the 21 podiums spots and have led led 81% (1,341-for-1,652 laps).

Last year, they led 219 of the 248 laps run. A year prior, it was all 212 laps of Race 1 and 188 of 248 in Race 2. In 2020, it was 198 of the 200 laps. In 2018, it was 204 of the 248 and in 2017, it was 233 of the 248. The only exception was in 2019 when they only led 87 of the 248 laps.

That means since 2020, they’ve combined to have led 817 out of the 908 laps turned (90%) and taking 10 of the 12 podium spots. Can anyone truly stop them on Sunday?

Dixon sounds confident. With rookies expected to struggle and veterans having an advantage, expect a similar race up front among the heavy hitters.

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