MADISON, Ill. – Last Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500 marked the halfway point of the ever-evolving NTT IndyCar Series season.
There are seven races left in the season, beginning with Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway.
It’s the first of two races at the 1.25-mile short oval this weekend.
Scott Dixon, who finished second to Takuma Sato in last Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500, has an 84-point lead over defending IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske. Dixon leads Pato O’Ward by 117 points.
Graham Rahal is fourth, 121 points behind Dixon, and Simon Pagenaud trails Dixon by 123 points.
Dixon led 111 laps in last Sunday’s race and appeared to be on his way to his second Indianapolis 500 win before losing out to Takuma Sato at the end of the race.
The dream of a second Indianapolis 500 is over, but Dixon appears to be in firm control of this year’s championship at the halfway point of the season.
“We’ve had two goals since we’ve raced Indy cars,” Chip Ganassi Racing Managing Director Mike Hull, who calls race strategy for Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, told SPEED SPORT. “The championship is one and the Indy 500 is the other. We’ve won both the same season one time. We’re working now to run the remaining races and see where the chips fall.”
Michael Cannon is spending his first season at Dixon’s race engineer after spending the past few seasons with Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan and, prior to that, numerous other teams in the series.
Cannon realizes Dixon is in prime position to control the championship entering this weekend’s doubleheader at Gateway, but there are seven races left on the schedule.
“Things can change in a heartbeat with one bad stop or have an issue with the car,” Cannon told SPEED SPORT. “The races we have run, with the quality cars, this will be the hardest one to feature. At least we have two shots at it.”
As Cannon was walking to pit lane for Friday’s practice session, he saw Sato’s race engineer, Eddie Jones.
“There’s my buddy Eddie Jones,” Cannon yelled. “He keeps ruining my day. I thought we were friends?”
Cannon admitted that after running a near flawless race in the Indianapolis 500, only to lose it at the end, was a painful loss for the team.
“On a variety of fronts, but we knew we were going to be racing Sato and Alexander Rossi,” Cannon said. “Alex got eliminated by a questionable penalty. At the end of the race, we set ourselves up for a sprint to the end, but the end didn’t happen the way we hoped it would end.
“Like any team that finishes second at the Speedway, you are going to rue what got away from you. We have to regroup and come back next year. That’s the best you can hope for.
“Tony Kanaan said the track chooses who you is going to win, and the track chose Takuma this year.
“When the yellow flag came out. We knew what we were doing with fuel and what they were doing with fuel.
“It’s easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback, but we’ll never know.
“It’s tough. It’s very, very tough. But you have to look at the flipside. We could have been running 16th all month and looking at the tops of your shoes all month. We were competitive, got very good points and we’ll go on from there.”
Indy is over, but a sixth championship remains a real possibility for Dixon and the PNC Bank Honda team. The stretch run for the title begins with Saturday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.
“From my end, I have to make sure this is more like Texas than Iowa,” Cannon said. “The competition is incredibly tough, and you never know who is going to be quickest. We could come here and somebody you hadn’t even though about has a great weekend. That is one of the things that is so enjoyable about IndyCar racing. It’s so hard to get a leg up. When you do well in one of these races, you’re very proud of yourself.
“At Indy, we did an awful lot right; it just wasn’t our day. You hold your head up high. We were in the top three or four in every session. We showed up. The team showed up.
“That’s Indy for you, my friend, that’s Indy, as you know.”
Dixon and Ganassi took the Indy defeat with dignity and class. That’s just the way Dixon is as a man.
“That’s a measure of who he is,” Hull said. “When you have a guy racing your car that has raced at Indianapolis for 18 years and he has a good race car, that is what you see.
“What we did at the race track is a measure of how hard the team worked. At the end of the race, it wasn’t meant to be. A lot of people are disappointed in second place, including the people that work at Chip Ganassi Racing. In this case, we showed how hard everybody in our building works. Scott Dixon did a hell of a job at Indy.
“It’s disappointing we have eight months to race there again, so we’ll get ready for the next one.”
The next one is the next step to another championship. That’s just the way the team has to approach it.
“We’ll take Saturday’s race as one race, then Sunday,” Hull explained. “I hope we are lucky enough to race at Mid-Ohio twice and then Indianapolis road track twice and then hopefully we’ll get to finish the season at St. Petersburg.
“There is quite a bit of racing left.”