FORT WORTH, Texas – All week heading into IndyCar’s season-opener, drivers young and old couldn’t agree on much, but one thing was clear: Experience would pay dividends at Texas Motor Speedway.
With practice, qualifying and the race all on Saturday — at the wildest oval on the circuit — and with untested tire compounds and a new aeroscreen some drivers expected to drastically throw off the center of gravity, veteran drivers had a leg up.
Enter Scott Dixon.
In the blistering June Texas heat, the Ice Man led 157 of 200 laps to claim Saturday’s Genesys 300 after thoroughly dominating all but one driver. Then, Dixon watched that highly-competitive teammate of his, Felix Rosenqvist, take an inopportune risk that sent the second-year Swede slipping straight into the wall with fewer than 10 laps to go in what could have turned into yet another final-lap duel for the Texas history books.
Instead, Dixon was forced to fend off the rest of the field in a late restart and still gapped second-place Simon Pagenaud by nearly 4.5 seconds over the final three laps — proving the level Dixon and his new engineer Michael Cannon had the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda on rails for the one-day show.
The victory gave the 39-year-old New Zealander a win in 18 seasons, tying an all-time mark held by A.J. Foyt, while extending Dixon’s record of consecutive seasons with a victory to 16. With the 47th win of his career, Dixon now sits five shy of Mario Andretti for second all-time.
“It’s not often you get a car like that, just very thankful to have that. The team gave me an amazing car, and it was a fun night for us and great to be back in the car after such a long break,” he said. “It was just nice to drive in traffic. Never really had to push too hard and just tried to make sure we could stay ahead of the rest of them.”
But despite the two Chip Ganassi Racing cars building a 14-plus-second cushion on the field during the second half of Saturday night’s race, Dixon ceded the pole to defending race and series champion Josef Newgarden, who held the final qualifying spot and bumped the eventual winner off his pedestal by 0.1 mph. And though the Team Penske driver led the first 31 laps and finished third, he and teammate Pagenaud complained early and often in the radio channels about tire vibrations from the unique Firestone combination created from 2019 Indy 500 left sides and right sides from last year’s race at Texas.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the series’ tire manufacturer had been unable to 真人百家家乐官网网站home in on a race-specific compound that would account for the variables stemming from the 60-or-so additional pounds of the new aeroscreen, combined with the intense heat.
As it turned out, Team Penske cars flashed high speeds late in practice and placed all three cars in the top-six on the grid, but couldn’t sustain that consistency through 35-lap stint maximums while running in traffic. In fact, it left Newgarden thankful for his third-place finish in what Ed Carpenter – who climbed up to fifth after starting 13th – called a “track position race” that favored cars who didn’t have to make passes on a track that, at times, was impossible to move around on without risking your entire race.
“Honestly, tonight feels like a victory to me,” he said. “We were not very good. Congrats to Scott, they were amazing tonight – I mean, they were just a cut above.
“We did everything we could to fight to stay up front. Early on, I was doing everything I could to keep Scott behind. He was a lot quicker, and once I got a little deeper into the pack, it was even harder to hang onto that front area.”
By Lap 75, Dixon led by more than 6.5 seconds and was already beginning to catch the back of the pack, edging by Tony Kanaan just two laps before race control threw a caution for debris on the track. And during the yellow, as the entire field cycled through the pits, Dixon fell back from first to third, behind Newgarden and Rosenqvist.
It was, quite possibly, Dixon’s lone error of the day – but one that, against a host of more competitive cars, could have spelled his demise after he spent much of his media session this week talking about the high-variability created from the additional two pit stops that would be necessary for the top of the field.
“I don’t know if I went long. We had a bit of a bobble there,” he said. “The car just had some really good speed.”
But on the first turn of the restart, Dixon leapfrogged Rosenqvist in Turn 1 and pulled a near-identical run on then-leader Newgarden moments later as he firmly took over the race for good to lead the final 110 laps.
In the back of his mind, though, Dixon knew the race might not yet be won, because the car off in the distance in his rearview mirror was on largely the same setup. And in his first race of the year in 2019 – his IndyCar debut, no less – Rosenqvist led 31 laps before finishing fourth at St. Pete to begin charting his course toward the Rookie of the Year title.
Despite holding a steady 14-or-so second lead on third-place, the 10-second gap to Rosenqvist at Lap 120 shrunk to 3.7 seconds at Lap 135, 1.8 seconds at Lap 150 and 0.6 seconds at Lap 175. Had he held on to the end, the 28-year-old driver might have challenged Dixon at the line.
But needing to leap-frog some lapped traffic with fewer than 10 laps to go and a one-second gap to close, Rosenqivst got high in the short chute between Turns 1 and 2 trying to slingshot around James Hinchcliffe on a portion of the track that had given drivers fits all day.
Takuma Sato, last year’s pole-sitter, lost control of his No. 30 Honda there in practice – and consequently missed the race. He hit a spot stained near-black due to the PJ1 TrackBite compound laid down back in November for NASCAR cars to provide stronger grip. Though it had been scrubbed off in recent weeks, the higher two lanes in the turns maintained the dark coloring that baked all day in the 90-plus degree ambient heat that took away nearly any semblance of grip to allow cars to go even two-wide safely.
After the race, Rosenqvist claimed he wasn’t trying to make a hero-move that he thought would make-or-break his day, but it proved costly nonetheless.
“I don’t blame others for whatever situations I have. I just came out on new tires, and I don’t know if James might have been on really old ones,” he said after his 20th-place finish. “It’s my judgement. I ran to the outside, and I probably shouldn’t have done it.
“It’s kinda one of those things where you sit there going 40 mph slower than you want to behind another car, and it’s tempting to move up one lane, but it was so slippery up there. The car was unbelievable tonight. We had a really great shot there and threw it away, so I’m really disappointed.”