Dixon leads final practice at Texas, details with my top 5 takeaways

Scott Dixon put down a late lap with a top speed of 222.378 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda in Saturday’s final practice session for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at the Texas Motor Speedway. It capped a strong day for Dixon who also qualified on the front row just prior to the hour-long final practice around the 1.44-mile high speed oval for the 10th time in 25 tries.

Josef Newgarden (221.792 mph) was second in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet while Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate of Takuma Sato (220.992 mph) was third in the incident free final practice in his No. 11 Dallara-Honda.

Last year’s runner-up, Scott McLaughlin (220.866 mph) was fourth in his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet while Colton Herta (220.807 mph) rounded out the top five.

Helio Castroneves didn’t get to turn a lap due to a gear box problem was that discovered in the second lane practice. Simon Pagenaud had to sit out the final 10 minutes due to being late to his weigh in.

Don’t Count Out Penske/Ganassi

McLaren may have stole the storylines early by going 2-3-6 in Practice 1 and putting all three cars in the top five of Sunday’s PPG 375 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) starting lineup, but it was both Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing saying, “not so fast my friend.”

They combined to take 5 of the top 6 speeds in final practice and looked the most comfortable running the second lane on the track.

Penske and Ganassi have alternated wins in each of the last five years and 7 of the last 9 overall. RLL and AMSP are the only exceptions with Graham Rahal’s win in 2016 and Pato O’Ward’s in Race 2 in 2021. RLL also won the 2020 Indy 500 too.

Last year, Penske and Ganassi swept the entire top 7 of the final finishing order.

Dixon Quietly Getting The Job Done

I feel like we’re talking McLaren, Penske, the 2nd lane, attendance, etc but the one thing we’re leaving out? Scott Dixon. He told me earlier this week that, “this should be a fantastic weekend for us.” Boy is he right.

Dixon was quickest in final practice and starts on the front row.

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.

2nd Lane Looks Raceable

Depending on whom you ask, they’ll either say the second lane is raceable or that they’ll only use it on a need be basis. However, most are in unison that the second lane is better this year than last. That’s a bonus because last year we saw a thrilling photo finish for which the race winning pass came from the outside. It was an insanely close finish with 15 lead changes and 12 of the 27 starters leading at least one lap. Now, they say it’s better?

That’s a great sign.

It seems like Turns 3-4 are the best set of corners in comparison to Turns 1-2, however, as tires deg and the lanes get pushed wider, Turns 1-2 can be of use as well.

Which Takuma Sato Do We Get?

Takuma Sato is making his debut with CGR this weekend. He’s been as advertised. Sato was 8th and 3rd in practice and starts 6th. Should be a favorite, right?

However, his recent Texas finishes have been DNS, 9th, 14th and 20th respectively. He has one top five finish (Race 1, 2011) in 14 Texas starts. While he’s with a car capable of winning (finished 6th last year), Sato has struggled to bring his cars home here too (6 DNF’s) and has just three lead lap finishes.

Callum Ilott Looking Great

The sophomore driver was 7th in both practice sessions this weekend. While he starts 17th, I don’t necessarily think that’s going to be a detriment. It looks like you can pass again here and the numbers are lining up for him.

7th in both practice. 17th in quals. Number 77. Can he get to No. 1?

Only Incident

Conor Daly spun during the second lane practice but luckily didn’t touch anything.

Odd But True

There was a bee problem on pit lane on Saturday which luckily, most folks were spared being stung.

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