INDIANAPOLIS – If Scott Dixon’s NTT IndyCar Series career came to an end this week, he would still be a five-time series champion and the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Much like Mario Andretti’s career, Dixon has accomplished some of the greatest feats this form of racing has to offer, including a win in the Indy 500.
Only problem is, just like Andretti before him, he’s only won it once.
For much of Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500, Dixon looked like he was on a Sunday afternoon drive. His No. 9 PNC Bank Honda was the class of the field.
Dixon took the lead entering turn one on the first lap of the race and was in control of the Indy 500, leading 111 laps.
Notably, Dixon’s laps led moved him to third all time on the Indianapolis 500 laps led list, with 563 laps. He trails Al Unser (644) and Ralph DePalma (612).
Dixon started the day eighth in laps led and passed, in order from eighth to third, Bill Vukovich, Parnelli Jones, Emerson Fittipaldi, Wilbur Shaw, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.
He was able to fend off challenges from Alexander Rossi and others, before a new nemesis came up with the best strategy at the end of the race.
It was 101st Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, whose Honda was running equal in speed to Dixon’s machine.
Dixon let Sato build a gap in an effort to have Sato’s fuel diminish faster than Dixon’s. But Sato was able to build too large of a gap for Dixon to overcome.
When Dixon pitted for the final time, the stop took slightly longer than normal. The extra time prevented Dixon from getting out ahead of Sato’s Honda, which was on the race course.
Dixon thought he could be rescued when Sato entered traffic, but he was unable to close the gap.
With five laps left in the race, the yellow flag waved after Spencer Pigot’s massive crash in the end of the pit wall attenuator. The crash destroyed the attenuator and Pigot was being tended to by the AMR Safety Crew on the track before he was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital.
There wasn’t enough time to red flag the race and get it restarted in time for one or two laps of green flag racing.
So, for the 10th time since 1988, the Indianapolis 500 ended under caution and Dixon was left with the sinking feeling of another near miss at The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
“Everything we did, strategy, was on point,” Dixon said afterwards. “We definitely had a pretty fast car. We knew it was always going to get tricky at this point of the day. We thought we kind of made the right call.
“When we ran the first couple laps after the last restart, we couldn’t get the fuel mileage we needed to finish the race. We went to a leaner mixture, just kind of sat there. We didn’t think they were going to make it on fuel.”
IndyCar officials had little choice but to finish the race under caution because there were not enough laps left to do a proper restart. Also, the repair to the damaged attenuator would have taken at least one hour.
IndyCar issued a statement after the race.
“INDYCAR makes every effort to end races under green, but in this case following the assessment of the incident, there were too few laps remaining to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag and then restart for a green-flag finish.”
Dixon was asked his thoughts on if a red flag would have been the right call.
“I think if they had thrown a red, the restart, the car in second in a scenario like that where you’re not trying to save fuel, going flat out, the leader would have been a bit of a sitting duck unless he did something very weird or strange that caused a bit of a chain reaction or an accordion effect,” Dixon said of Sato. “If there was a three-lap shootout, that would have been pretty fair.
“I don’t know how or why or how they do it in the past. The last few times it was maybe more laps to go in the race. I think if they called it pretty quickly like they typically do, you still could have had at least three laps to fight it out.”
Ultimately, Dixon finished second in the Indy 500 for the third time in his career. He was third in 2018, fourth in 2015, fifth in 2010 and 2011 and sixth in 2006.
It was his 12th top 10 finish at Indy in 18 starts.
What might have been?
“I probably should have been a little more aggressive on that high side there,” Dixon lamented. “I think he would have just run me up anyway, which maybe would have put both of us in the fence, or maybe just me.
“Maybe we should have gone harder. Maybe we would have run out of fuel and been in the same position. I don’t know what the right call was. Just shows you, when I was asked if I wanted to be leading with five laps to go yesterday, absolutely, especially with a scenario like this.
“It’s definitely hard to swallow for the team. Massive thank you to the 9 car crew. They did a tremendous job on pit road today, strategy, everything we could. Got to say congrats to Sato, too. He drove a hell of a race. They were victorious.
“He’s drinking the milk, and that’s what counts.”
Dixon was in control of the race. He had the fastest car in the Indy 500.
But oftentimes, the fastest car doesn’t win the Indianapolis 500. At least in this case, maybe the fastest car at the end of the race won the Indy 500, but that was driven by Sato.
“I think there’s always many turning points that you could have done a little bit different,” Dixon said. “Ultimately if it had gone green all the way maybe he would have run out of fuel. It seems like from our point of view that was definitely possible.
“I definitely thought where they did lean out for a period, like maybe about a lap or three-quarters of a lap, that’s where we got the big run on them, that’s the pace they would have had to run till the end. I don’t know.
“I’m going to be bummed, I can tell you that. That’s a given.”