ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Once again, Scott Dixon found himself with a shot at winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but a brilliant strategy call by rival Team Penske denied him the win.
Dixon came home as the runner-up on the 1.8-mile Florida street course Sunday afternoon, his fourth-career second-place finish in 15 starts there with Chip Ganassi Racing and first such result since 2012, when he led 37 laps.
The New Zealand native was leapfrogged during the middle stint of the 110-lap event, when eventual winner Josef Newgarden stayed out on older tires and built a gap that gave him the lead after pit stops.
However, it was still a Herculean effort for the five-time and defending series champion to finish second, considering the fact that his onboard drink bottle wasn’t working for the entire event.
“It was definitely a tough race,” Dixon said afterward. “We never really had any down time. It was pretty flat-out there, with only one caution (flag). It was pretty physical, at least, with no fluids … but the PNC Bank Honda was really fast on the shorter runs.
“For the first 10 to 15 laps of a run, I could really pressure the Penske cars, but as soon as they got to the latter parts (of a run) – the last 10 laps – we sort of fell off a bit,” he added. “We need to work on that, but this was a great day for us, points-wise, with myself in second and Felix (Rosenqvist) fourth there.”
Dixon appeared to possibly have a chance at Newgarden in the final laps, as the 2017 champion was impeded by Marco Andretti’s slower car, but Newgarden eventually made the pass and went on to win.
“It’s hard in those situations, because you know that traffic is trying to stay on the (lead) lap and they’re off-strategy a bit,” Dixon admitted. “Josef got held up a little bit there by … I think it was Marco (Andretti), that was racing him pretty hard, but he finally got a run down the front straight and got clear of him. You hope for an opening, but we didn’t quite get what we needed there.”
Despite the bitter tang of missing out on a win in the season opener once more, Dixon still cracked a smile when referencing the silver lining in the clouds for his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda team.
“Hopefully we can carry some momentum forward (into the season), but I definitely still want a win at this place,” Dixon noted. “I have to give huge credit to Josef (Newgarden); he drove a hell of a race. We always come to these races to win and we just came up a little bit short.
“You’ve got to take the positives out of a day like this,” Dixon continued. “We’ve had some pretty rough runs here at St. Pete – typically we don’t start the season too strong – but the car feels good. It doesn’t feel perfect and we’ve definitely got some areas to work on, but today showed how balanced this team is. They worked hard today and we covered all of our bases, I felt like.
“I did think we had a run on Josef in traffic, but it just wasn’t enough this time.”