JOLIET, IL --
That year, he was new to the series, didn't like racing on ovals and was a reluctant competitor after having moved over from CART with Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. After clinching the championship in '03, he said the cars drove like "crap." Suffice to say, he didn't seem to be a strong advocate of the series.
Five years later, Dixon has changed his opinion.
He is probably the most loyal driver in IndyCar and one of the most staunchest defenders of the series. In past years when IndyCar's best drivers, such as three-time series champion
The IndyCar Series has become his racing home and the driver from Auckland, New Zealand, had his greatest season in 2008, winning a record-tying six races, including the biggest of them all, the 92nd Indianapolis 500 in May.
By clinching his second IndyCar Series championship in Sunday's PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, the 27-year-old Dixon believes there are more championships to win in IndyCar.
"Absolutely," Dixon said. "I said to Chip [Ganassi, his team owner] just now, that's number two and we've got many more to come."
How times have changed, not only for Dixon as an individual but for the IndyCar Series in this year of unification.
Franchitti's foray into NASCAR didn't quite turn out as well as the Scotsman expected and he has jumped back to IndyCar where he will be Dixon's teammate in 2009. Television ratings, attendance and awareness all increased this season, mostly because IndyCar racing is whole again.
And by winning a title in the first year of unification, Dixon was able to beat the best and prove that he is the best at a track where he lost the 2007 championship in the last turn of the last lap to Franchitti, who was then driving for Andretti Green Racing.
"It's a testament to Scott," said
"Oftentimes people spiral into 'Never Never Land' when you get beat like he had got beat last year here at Chicago. We actually took Monday off last year, but we were working on Tuesday. Everybody in the building, we got together and dedicated ourselves to do what he saw this year."
"You know, [this year] means a lot more than the championship in 2003," Dixon admitted. "I think this year is much tougher. I think after '04 and '05, it makes you, I guess, cherish things a lot more, definitely race wins just as a whole, but a championship much more."
Dixon exudes a quiet self-confidence that can be felt when he enters a room. In the past, he was downright shy and avoided the spotlight at all costs. Today, Dixon is comfortable with its bright glare.
He was married in the offseason to his beautiful wife,
"I was a little worried when he got married," team owner
It's been quite a year for Dixon, who was married in February, won the Indy 500 in May and the IndyCar championship in September. His charge for the championship actually began in 2006. Since the start of that season, Dixon has 42 top-10 finishes in 48 races with 12 victories, 36 top-five finishes and has led 1,405 laps.
Since the Richmond race in June 2007, Dixon has 21 top-five finishes in 26 races including 10 victories, 23 top-10 finishes and has led 1,089 laps.
He is just the second driver to win multiple IndyCar championships joining three-time title winner Hornish.
It is also the fourth-straight year the winner of the Indianapolis 500 has gone on to win the series championship, tying a record from 1967-70 when
Now Dixon is proving that his name belongs in the same company as those IndyCar legends.
Now that NASCAR has determined the 12 drivers who make up the Chase, a few thoughts.
NASCAR has signified the 10 races that precede the beginning of the Chase as the "Race to the Chase." I thought the "Race to the Chase" began with the Daytona 500 in February. Does that mean the 16 races that precede "The Race to the Chase" are the pre-season or the regular season? Or, are the 26 races that precede the actual "Chase" the regular season or the pre-season?
The only certainty is the driver that finishes first at the end of the Chase will be the champion, and it seems that
So looking ahead to the start of the Chase the first two races usually separate the contenders from the pretenders. For a driver who starts off with two bad races, the hole will get deep in a hurry and that driver may be mathematically alive for the title but realistically out of it.
But with the format of the Chase, it rewards a driver who is hot at the end of the season more so than the driver who has been great all year long. That is why it is very conceivable that Busch and Edwards may not win the championship and a driver like Johnson will.
It's all about getting hot at the right time.
Although a third-straight title by Johnson would be historic -- he would join
Johnson is a nice guy but he's "Mr. Corporate" and doesn't generate much emotion from the race fans.
What this angry mob really wants to see is a street fight between Busch, Edwards and -- of course --
It's time for something colorful and something exciting to happen in the Chase after last year's yawner where Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon turned it into an HMS mutual admiration society.
Hornish insists he is in NASCAR for the long haul but believes he has not driven in his final IndyCar Series race. And
That's good for IndyCar racing because, frankly, it made about as much sense as
Just because an IndyCar and a NASCAR ride have four wheels and a steering wheel doesn't make them the same. They are vastly different racing disciplines, which explains why only a few drivers, such as
And while it would be great to see
This has to go to
After finishing second to
With Stewart leaving JGR at the end of the season to become an owner/driver at Stewart Haas Racing, Zipadelli is probably counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until Stewart's final race with the team.
This was once the best crew chief/driver relationship in NASCAR, but after 10 seasons, they are ready for a racing divorce.
Who else but
Flash back to May, when Busch ran into the back of Earnhardt, who was in the lead late in the first Richmond race. Given that exchange, it's easy to understand that these fans wanted revenge.
Although it appeared that Busch actually drove down on Earnhardt to cause his own crash, in the minds of the Earnhardt race fans, I can hear them now -- "Junior sure did show that punk."
So, naturally, I had to ask Castroneves, "Who was a tougher competitor -- Scotty D or Mel B?"
"That's a good one, there," Castroneves said with a laugh after losing the IndyCar Series title to Dixon on Sunday. "I would have to say Mel B because I was in a very different territory and didn't know how it would turn out. I was pretty nervous. Here, I knew what I needed to do."
The incredible finish of Sunday's PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway was the perfect way to finish IndyCar's season of unification.
Dixon was originally credited with winning the race by .0010 seconds, which would have made it the closest finish in IndyCar history. Dixon, who needed to finish eighth or better to clinch the season championship, wheeled his car into victory lane and was ready to celebrate both a race victory and title.
Not so fast.
IndyCar Series officials use a camera placed at the start/finish line for any finish of .0066-of-a-second or less and when they looked at the photo, Castroneves was ahead by 12-1/8th of an inch, a 0.0033-second margin of victory and his second win in the final three races of the season.
It was the second-closest finish in IndyCar history, falling just short of the 0.0024-second margin of victory when
Talk about tacky.
Meira should have invested in a better Spam Blocker to keep that e-mail from arriving, forcing the team to tell him in person. After all, who likes to be fired by e-mail?
"I feel like it's important for the fans to know what I think about everything that has happened this last week," Meira said. "I didn't want to leave Panther and the No. 4 car because I know how good this team is going to be next year. I feel like I'm a big part of the foundation of this team in the new generation of the IndyCar Series. I'm sad to leave and I don't agree with all the decisions that have been made, but that doesn't change the way I feel about Panther Racing and I'll always have a lot of respect for them. I feel like I'm personal friends with every member of this team. That will never change."
At one point, Penske had considered a two-car team for the entire series in 2009, but wants to focus on one car next season, with the possibility of a second car in the Indianapolis 500.
Meira finished 27th for Panther after he crashed in the second turn on lap 75.
"It's a shame it had to end like that," Meira said.
Although the message of Meira's departure arrived in an impersonal e-mail, Panther Racing had a huge "Thank you Vitor" banner on the pit wall for his final race with the team.
"I went over there to meet with them and they just wanted to talk to Helio. I wasn't invited. I was de-invited."
"When you're lucky enough to be on the radio with a guy like Scott Dixon and you're telling him he needs to finish eighth, what do you think is going to happen? That's like putting red in front of a bull."
Talk about a wet towel in the face, Duno has done it again. She threw her sweat-soaked towel in Patrick's face in a confrontation between the two at Mid-Ohio in July and now she has one-upped Patrick in the season-ending laps led category.
The start of the Chase, of course, because it means finally we don't have to hear about who is going to make it or who isn't going to be in the Chase. This is the time to get down to it and start the 10-week segment that is going to determine who wins the Sprint Cup title.