I had a few different ideas of what I wanted to discuss this week but one person kept coming to the forefront of my mind – Scott Dixon. The past six races have really had glaring focus on him, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the not-so-good.
The spotlight started shining on him this season when he grabbed the first win for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2013, at Pocono Raceway back in July; it certainly was not an obvious or easy victory either. After a 23-year hiatus from the track, IndyCar returned making quite an impression and keeping the fans guessing how the weekend would turn out. There was plenty of drama and intrigue for fans and media alike, to follow… from Tony Kanaan looking to collect the second jewel en route to the elusive IndyCar Triple Crown, to Marco Andretti feeling the pressure to give a stellar performance after qualifying in the pole position at his hometown track, to six drivers being penalized for unapproved engine changes and forced to move back on the starting grid. One of those drivers was Scott Dixon – the penalty placing him back to P17. However, he remained steady and confident through the race, patiently waiting for his turn which came with just under 30 laps to go. Dixon moved into the lead and clinched the win – standing upon the podium with teammates Charlie Kimball & Dario Franchitti, showing the fans and the world that Team Ganassi was far from counting themselves out this season.
The spotlight got a bit brighter when Dixon took the checkered not once, but TWICE on the streets of Toronto at the double-header weekend. The following race was one of Scott’s favorite road courses, I mean he is “Mr. Mid-Ohio” after all, having won four of the past six races at the Lexington, OH track. I don’t know about you but I was pretty convinced that we were going to see him come out of that August weekend with his fourth straight win of the season. It almost seemed too easy. But, nothing comes easy… in life or in IndyCar. And while Dixon had a relatively stable day at Mid-Ohio (as did the entire field – running the course for the second year in a row caution-free), it wasn’t enough to win or place podium, leaving him with a P7 finish.
The stability I had mentioned earlier seemed to start unraveling a bit for Scott at the weekend in Sonoma. He was coming into the race tied for the most wins of the season with Andretti Autosports driver, James Hinchcliffe and trailing the points leader, Helio Castroneves by only 31 points. I think it’s fair to say the pressure was building and the usually cool-headed Dixon seemed to be feeling the heat of that spotlight as raceday progressed. Castroneves’ teammate, Will Power was racing hard with Dixon throughout and the tension reached its breaking point as they were both in the pits with 15 to go. Dixon exited his pit (which was directly behind Power’s), making contact with one of Power’s tire carriers. The domino effect of the carrier’s fall, ultimately left 3 pit crew members injured but none seriously. Based on IndyCar protocol, Dixon was served with a drive-thru penalty after hitting crew & equipment and ended up P15 after having a very good chance at the podium, if not the victory. Beaux Barfield maintained, in post-race commentary, that Dixon had entered Power’s pit while the #12 was being serviced; Dixon maintained that Power’s crew member had intentionally blocked his exit. Power went on to win the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, Castroneves held onto to his points lead, and social media became an absolute raucous with fans and media trying to sort out the details, understand the penalty and decide where they stood. It was and probably always will be a very polarizing incident.
Speaking of trying to make sense of things… let’s move on to the craziness that IS the Grand Prix of Baltimore. This street circuit, in its very short history with IndyCar, has never failed to produce drama… be it on the track, off the track or well, the track itself! Everyone has a pretty loud opinion when it comes to topics of discussion in Baltimore and this season was no different. At first it seemed that Scott might be back on his hot streak, winning the pole during Saturday’s session. However, the Power & Dixon tension continued to overshadow the positivity of his qualifying result and reaching another boiling point when Power slammed him into the wall almost immediately after the green flag dropped for the bazillionth time. Yes, I am aware that’s a ridiculous exaggeration, but I can’t lie to you… at this point in the race I was just trying my best not to get sunstroke and had stopped counting caution flags quite a while back. I was however able to partially see one of the large TV screens across the grandstands to my right, and that was where I saw the shot of Dixon walking by Power’s car in the pits and Power putting his hand up in the arm almost in a “get out of here” kind of gesture. I assumed at this time, that Dixon’s car was beyond repair since we were just slightly beyond the halfway mark of the 75 mile race. I came to find out later that IndyCar ruled Dixon’s car not be returned to the pits for what seemed to be relatively simple repairs. I found this slightly troubling.
Sidebar: the refusal to bring the car in reminded me of when James Hinchcliffe was left to wait at the side of the track at Barber, in the beginning of the season. Patiently waiting for a caution flag that never dropped, we’ll never really know how Hinch spent that time by himself… maybe to reflect upon the weekend, maybe to take a quick powernap between the roar of the DW12’s, or if Twitter holds any truth in its beautiful witty sarcasm, he may have just been contemplating the possibility of having a pizza delivered. In hindsight, a pizza delivery car on the track at Barber might have brought out that yellow he so desperately needed.
But I digress.
The frustrating situation that Dixon was placed in seemed to be the straw that broke the hypothetical camel’s back – he lashed out verbally calling for the removal of Beaux Barfield from the position of IndyCar Race Director and openly refusing to accept Power’s apology for causing the accident. These comments landed Dixon in a probationary state with IndyCar as well as being fined $30,000. According to the rulebook however, he can work the fine off by making personal appearances on behalf of IndyCar.
Personally, I can understand where both sides are coming from – I appreciate that IndyCar is doing it’s best to follow the rulebook this season, while still looking at each incident individually. However, it’s easy to see why certain teams feel that they are feeling the brunt of these consequences more than others and that there’s a consistency lacking in the “throw-down” of said penalties. I’ve read multiple articles about these incidents, watched them happen live, rewound them on my DVR at home on their respected weekends and I feel like I can analyze these situations from both perspectives, separated from emotional bias and come to opposing, yet still valid, conclusions. That realization tells me one thing – as great as the view might be, I am glad that I am not sitting in that Race Control booth.