FORT WORTH, Texas—Three thoughts on Scott Dixon’s victory in IndyCar’s Firestone 600 race on Saturday night at Texas Speedway:
1. Dixon isn’t saving his best for last
After the checkered flag flew, Dixon eased his No. 9 neon-green and black Ganassi machine into Victory Lane, pried his helmet off his ruddy face and let out a sharp, satisfied sigh. He looked more like a man who had just emerged from a relaxing steam bath than one who had spent the past two hours heating up the track.
His evening at Texas Speedway wasn’t particularly stressful. After starting seventh, he quickly jumped into the top five, eventually seized the lead and held onto it for 97 furious laps. He wasn't fazed by the rivals sparring for positioning behind him or the laggards ahead of him in traffic, some of them two laps behind. He just calmly went about his business and won by a comfortable 7.8 seconds. “Once we got the balance right,” he said, “we got some front wing in the car, [and] some tire pressure changes, the car was basically on rails.”
Over the past 13 IndyCar seasons, Dixon has owned a reputation as a world-class procrastinator, one who prefers to build his title runs later in the season rather than in the beginning. It’s tough to fault the approach considering Dixon has won three series titles. However, this victory, Dixon’s second of the season, isn’t just a bump in the standings where he still ranks third behind Penske drivers Juan Pablo Montoya (first) and Will Power (second), but not by nearly as many points as before (43 and eight points). It was a major psyche boost.
The last time he went head up against the Penske cars, at last month’s Indy 500, they ganged up on him late in the race and relegated him to a fourth-place finish. This time, on Texas’s 1½ miler, Dixon took the fight to the Penskes and soundly defeated them—albeit with help from teammate Tony Kanaan, who finished second. To have Dixon running this well this early is a massively encouraging sign for a Ganassi team that is the only other franchise in the garage with the horsepower to thwart Penske’s series title quest.
2. The aero kits were a nonfactor
Before this race, IndyCar required teams to affix closure panels on their rear wheel guards to prevent cars from taking off and/or flipping over while going backward, as they did in the days before the Indy 500. The mandate was a patch of sorts to the aero kit that was rolled out by the series manufacturers, Chevy and Honda, for the oval racing season.
While teams did not have nearly as much time to tinker with their cars before this race as Indy, the tinkering they did do was more than effective. Not only were there no contact- or aero-related crashes to speak of on Saturday night, but 235 of the race’s 248 laps were under green. The reason for those 13 caution laps? Debris on the frontstretch.
That’s with 14 lead changes and the vets in the field racing side-by-side on a plurality of those green-flag laps, within inches of each other in some of those tense moments. And with no bits or pieces flying off onto the track or into the crowd, either.
What’s more, the drivers broke a nine-year-old speed record for pace, bumping the benchmark to 191.940 mph. In other words, the new aero kit did exactly what it was designed to do: dazzle without being dangerous.
3. The Hondas still don’t quite have the oval down
This week, it was fifth-place Marco Andretti who was the biggest foil to the Chevys, which scooped up the first four spots on box score. This was a credit to his commitment to playing a long game built upon a patient pit strategy and fueling schedule. “We were just sort of hanging on to it tonight,” he said. “Seemingly lacking a bit of grip and pace to the front runners, so we had to get the top five the way we did.”
• MORE RACING: Mario Andretti's various business ventures are thriving
The approach couldn’t have contrasted more starkly with the one taken by Schmidt Peterson’s Ryan Briscoe. He went right after the Chevys, shooting from 19th position into the top five. Once up front, he found an eager sparing partner in Ganassi’s Charlie Kimball but never seemed to have enough power in reserve to pass him. In the end, Briscoe would finish ninth to Kimball’s eighth. His showing, which wasn’t at all bad for a guy who arrived on the scene just last month as a substitute for the injured James Hinchcliffe, could prove useful to Honda as it seeks to more aggressively fine-tune its aero kit for the remaining four oval events on the schedule.