Column: Scott Dixon grabs Indy 500 spotlight, robbery aside

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) It is only fitting that it was Scott Dixon, the greatest IndyCar driver of his generation, to grab some of the spotlight away from Fernando Alonso.

Sure, ''The Iceman'' was robbed at gunpoint in the drive thru of a Taco Bell just a mile away from Indianapolis Motor Speedway not long after he won the pole for the Indianapolis 500. He made a dash for his taco celebration with mate Dario Franchitti, a fellow four-time IndyCar champion, and the headlines of the robbery followed soon after.

But Dixon was already becoming the talk of the speedway before the great Taco Bell heist as ''The Greatest Spectacle in Racing'' had turned into, well, quite the spectacle, almost all of it surrounding Alonso.

Alonso deserves the attention. The two-time Formula One champion has thrived at Indy and soaked in every single second of his opportunity to run in what he considers to be the greatest race in the world.

But it was Dixon who won the pole in an aggressive setup from engineer Chris Simmons that pushed the limits. Dixon's third Indy 500 pole was the best qualifying run in 21 years at Indy, his four-lap average a brisk 232.164 mph.

Dixon's doesn't let much bother him, so the Alonso show is hardly a slight to the New Zealand driver. Still, he's the 2008 winner of the Indy 500 and ranks fourth on the all-time winning list. He's no different than Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay or even Alexander Rossi - all Indy 500 winners who find themselves in the Alonso's shadow.

The upside to Alonso skipping the F1 race at Monaco this weekend is that new viewers are paying attention to the Indy 500. The downside is that it has come at the expense of quite a few storylines that, without the presence of Alonso, would be a huge part of the hype leading into Sunday.

The subplots at Indy are meaty, too:

PAGING ROGER PENSKE

His organization is known for excellence and Team Penske holds Indianapolis in the highest regard. But only one of the five Penske cars qualified for the Fast Nine Shootout on pole day, and Will Power ended up the slowest qualifier of the group. He will start ninth on Sunday, highest of all the Penske cars.

''That was as good as we had,'' Power said.

Roger Penske has a record 16 wins at Indy, but his cars didn't look like contenders out of qualifying.

Behind Power is Castroneves, who will start 19th - the worst qualifying position in 17 Indy 500 starts for the three-time winner. Two-time Indy 500 winner Montoya will start 18th, Josef Newgarden 22nd and Simon Pagenaud 23rd.

''It is a mystery,'' Pagenaud said. ''That's what makes Indianapolis, that's why this place is special. Sometimes it's tough to figure it out. We can't figure it out this month.''

If the team doesn't pick it up by Sunday, The Captain will not be a happy man.

CHEVROLET VS. HONDA

Chevrolet seemed to be lagging behind Honda at the start of the IndyCar season, when Honda opened with a pair of victories. But three straight Chevrolet wins seemed to indicate it might be an even playing field.

Well, either Chevrolet is sandbagging at Indy, or Honda has really upped its game.

The Fast Nine qualifying consisted of six Honda drivers, and just three from Chevrolet. Ed Carpenter was the highest-qualifying Chevy driver at second, and teammate JR Hildebrand was sixth. But with the Penske cars struggling, Chevrolet just seems overmatched.

It's an odd position for Chevy, the dominant manufacturer since it returned to IndyCar competition in 2012, and has the makings for an ugly Indy 500 for the Bowtie Brigade.

BOURDAIS' BAD BREAK

Few drivers had as strong a start to the season as Sebastien Bourdais, another four-time champion who has gone largely under the radar for almost a decade.

But he opened the year with a sports car victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona driving for Chip Ganassi, and then won the IndyCar opener at St. Petersburg driving for tiny Dale Coyne Racing.

Bourdais' lap of 233.116 mph registers as the fastest so far at Indy this month, and he might have had a shot at the pole before his frightening accident in Saturday's qualifying. Now the Frenchman has had surgery to repair fractures to his hip and pelvis, and Coyne likely lost his shot at winning the 500.

James Davison will replace Bourdais, who is out indefinitely. He tweeted a picture of himself Monday in his hospital gown, but up and moving with a walker. His loss is a huge blow to the Coyne team, which Bourdais felt strongly he could build into a contender and seemed to be delivering on his word through his first season with the organization.

The Alonso factor is certainly intriguing, but there's a lot happening at Indy that doesn't involve him. The excitement is thick, even without a trip to Taco Bell.

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More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

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