|Dixon put on his usual clinic at Mid-Ohio|
I'll admit: I'm having a little trouble effectively articulating what we saw Sunday at Mid-Ohio.
From one certain perspective, the 2014 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio was simply the latest installment in IndyCar's longest running, drama free travelling show.
But let the record show: the 2014 edition of Death, Taxes and Scott Dixon Wins at Mid-Ohio, will go down as the most memorable clinic Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing annually conduct in Ohio's Amish country. See, Dixon's epic win, and the manner in which it occurred, is inconceivable from anyone but him.
A Signature Win
Racing legends possess many defining characteristics. One, however, above all others would be the defining, signature victory.
Rick Mears, for example, was known for his tendency to lay back early in Indy 500s, only to attack in the race's second-half. People might remember numerous instances of cold-blooded, calculating Unsers, methodically, patiently, successfully, and ruthlessly waiting for misfortune to strike men named Andretti. For a Formula 1 example, people may remember Ayrton Senna driving into the distance from pole at Monaco, clinically demoralizing the entire field.
And I could go on.
The point, however, remains: legendary racers are legends, in part, because of a signature style of driving and winning specific to them. Sunday, we witnessed such an instance from this era's greatest IndyCar driver.
The Ruthless Kiwi
Of course, 2014 has been something of a disappointment for the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series Champion. While such disappointment must be viewed relative to the very lofty standards Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing have established in their 13 seasons together, the Kiwi had posted no finish better than third prior to Sunday. During the previous three race weekends, he had been outperformed by his Target teammate Tony Kanaan. Plus, given his relative decline in form from 2013 there were reasonable questions that something more fundamental was potentially plaguing the Ganassi operation.
Was it the retirement of technical wizard Dario Franchitti, who was the perfect complement to the analytical, and tactical Dixon? Sure, everyone was making nice publicly, but was the chemistry between Dixon and longtime-rival-turned-teammate Kanaan maybe amiss? What, if any factor did the Ganassi operation's decision to expand back to four cars have on the team's performance? What about the team switching from Honda engines to Chevrolet?
All of these questions had been asked if not publicly, then certainly privately.
Sure, Dixon had won four of the previous seven races at Mid-Ohio, and Team Ganassi the last 5. Yes, AutoRacing1 had predicted a Dixon win last week.
But a clumsy spin during a wet qualifying session Saturday meant Dixon would start the race 22nd and last. With the year both team and driver were having, with teammates Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball only a row ahead on the grid, there was significant evidence to suggest driver and team were out of sorts. Kanaan, starting third, seemed the Ganassi team's only reasonable hope. Certainly, any notions of a Dixon victory were at-best, very optimistic, when the green flag waved Sunday.
Contact between Kanaan and Josef Newgarden (we'll get to him later) in the first turn would end the day for the Brazilian and Marco Andretti. Dixon, at the back took the opportunity to pit on lap 2, and would come in again on lap 10. After the initial cycle of pit stops ended on lap 27, Ganassi Team Principal Mike Hull then made the call that would ultimately propel Dixon to the front of the field.
On lap 31, the fuel window opened (barely) for the notoriously fuel-frugal Kiwi to come to pit road, and need only one more pit stop. And when Ryan Hunter-Reay spun on lap 37 to bring out a full course yellow, the majority of the field opted forced to pit with the window open. Having already made his pit stop, Dixon vaulted to the front of the field, where he would stay for all but a few of the remaining laps.
No, Dixon did not carve his way past 21 cars. Yes, a strategy call got him to the front. Yes, that same strategy call would not have worked last year when INDYCAR kept the pits open under caution.
Still, after what had been a forgettable season, and forgettable weekend, Hull's call vaulted the Kiwi to front. From there, Dixon took care of the rest during the race's second half.
As he began posting lap times than those carrying larger fuel loads, while simultaneously stretching his fuel mileage as only he can, it became clear no one had anything for the Kiwi. And Sunday's race at Mid-Ohio turned into another Dixon stroll through the Ohio countryside.
Yes, Sunday's victory and the manner, in which it occurred is unimaginable from anyone but Scott Dixon. Of course, it came in part at the expense of…
|Newgarden's pit crew lost him the race. He smiled knowing he was fastest on this day.|
The Tennessee native was arguably having the best drive of his IndyCar career, running consistently with pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais. Then, Newgarden successfully pressured Dixon during the race's middle stint, in which he was able to run competitive times on Firestone primary 'black' tires with others on the alternate, grippier, 'reds.'
In short, a more than plausible argument can be made that Newgarden had the best car, given his performance on 'blacks' during the race's middle stint.
However, all that was rendered moot when Newgarden came to the pits on lap 65, three laps after Dixon made his final stop. The 23-year old ran over an air hose entering his pit box the pits. He would be delayed on pit road, then adding insult to injury, given a drive-thru penalty for running over an air hose. It was a cruel gut-punch for the talented, likable Newgarden and the one-car SFHR squad, who have been close on occasion, but yet to close the deal.
To his credit, Newgarden took the high road, when he could have easily thrown his team under the bus. Still, only the most jaded of observers could not have felt for Newgarden Sunday.
More on Newgarden
With another disappointment for the very popular Young Josef (see: Long Beach), many have suggested the talented Newgarden needs to do his career a favor already and find another team. That may be so, but I have to ask: where?
All indications are Team Penske is going to return intact in 2015. Ganassi has three of its four drivers under contract. Andretti Autosport also appears to be a bit of a cluster.
I suppose a logical landing place for Newgarden might be Schmidt Peterson Motorsports if Simon Pagenaud signs with Andretti. But aside from those teams, one has to ask: in this spec era are any of the remaining teams on the grid that much of an upgrade from where Newgarden currently is?
In short, I don't see Newgarden as having a lot of desirable options during Silly Season 2015. Right now, it would seem his best plan to make a move 'up the grid' so to speak, would be to wait until 2016.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Mid-Ohio
Visually, at least, the crowd looked quite good at Mid-Ohio this weekend. I'm going to suggest that the very good crowd might be an indication that there is value in giving the ticket-buyer 10 races over the course a weekend. This can be greatly contrasted with recent IndyCar oval events at Pocono and Iowa.
Also, out of curiosity I checked the race schedule for this year's IndyCar finale weekend at Auto Club Speedway. Get this: there will be no support races. None. Zero. Nil. Nada.
Way to go INDYCAR! You've once again set the industry gold-standard in creating minimal value for your paying customers. Your tireless efforts and promotional savvy in making your series' finale a spectacle to behold are the stuff of legend.
Literally. If the goal is to ensure all the races stay small so they never threaten the Indy 500 in popularity, well then mission accomplished.
More on Mid-Ohio
I want to be careful here, because I'm not someone who thinks a good race is defined by constant overtaking. That said, some overtaking would be nice. And year after year after year, Mid-Ohio races tend to be incredibly processional.
Obviously, the track is a favorite of the drivers. As stated above, the promotion team does a good job getting people to the circuit. Would it be too much to ask for at least one decent overtaking zone?
Although, Will Power and Helio Castroneves have a sizable lead, I'm by no means ready to declare the championship a done deal. In my opinion, everyone through sixth-place Dixon (108 points behind Power) has at least a small chance.
That said, a Power-Castroneves battle to the finish is very much a real possibility. Given the fact both have experienced numerous near-misses throughout their career; given the fact both are prone to mood swings, and not exactly not known to be best buds; given the fact both can fill a glaring hole in their very impressive resumes; and given the uncertainty of this ludicrous double-points finale, I can see things getting real testy at Team Penske in the coming weeks.
Brian Carroccio is a columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.