The Iowa 300 was far from perfect for Scott Dixon, but, like clockwork, the reigning and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion delivered another clutch performance in the wee hours of Sunday morning at Iowa Speedway.
Delayed 4.5 hours due to severe weather, the green flag finally waved around 11:50 p.m. ET with the driver of the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda rolling off from eighth on the grid. Dixon held steady in the top 10 for the first 32 of 300 laps, but tire degradation quickly made its mark as he dropped like a rock to 16th just 10 laps later. The problems persisted even after making an initial pit stop on Lap 55.
Despite climbing back up to 13th, Dixon fell a lap down to eventual race winner Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) on Lap 121. He continued to navigate the ill-handling car around the 0.894-mile oval, and pushed to extend his penultimate pit stop to Lap 196 — five more than the leaders.
Methodically improving his track position, the big gain came as the frontrunners went to make their final pit stop on Lap 253. Dixon opted to once again extend his stint to get back on the lead lap and hope for a last-gasp caution, which came out on Lap 263 after driver/owner Ed Carpenter slapped the wall in Turn 2.
With only a handful of drivers left on the lead lap, this allowed Dixon to make his final pit stop on Lap 269 and return with stellar track position in sixth-place.
On the ensuing restart five laps later, he carved through top five and climbed to second on Lap 285 and eventually cross the finish line 2.8527s behind Newgarden.
Overall, the heroics delivered Dixon the 45th runner-up finish of his sterling career, but first-ever at Iowa.
“We didn’t have a perfect car at any point this weekend,” said Dixon. “I feel we actually made some pretty good gains end of the final practice. It was really bizarre, too. We didn’t really change too much.
“Had a pretty good understeer car for the start, then once the race started, it was extremely loose — especially through [Turns] 2 and 4. It was just really bizarre. We kind of chased it all night. It was one of those situations where we didn’t really have the gap. Even adjusting the front wing, tire pressure was shifting balance of the car a ton — much more than I really experienced before. The second to last set of tires I thought were extremely bad. The last set felt good, but we had a lot better tire laps than the rest.
“I don’t know. We really struggled here the past few years; not exactly sure why. We tested here with (teammate) Felix (Rosenqvist). It looks like we didn’t really accomplish much. It’s definitely a track that we need to totally revamp our thinking and try to understand where we’re going wrong.”
Dixon, who sits third all-time with 45 Indy car wins, confessed to knowing instantly at the start of the race “it was going to be a long night.”
“I knew immediately we just didn’t really have it,” he said. “On throttle, even on fresh tires, we were really struggling. Just one of those things where you hope through the night you can keep up the changes a little bit quicker.
“I think we did a good job of chasing it. Honestly we started in a really bad place.
Similar to Road America last month, Dixon and Co. found a way to turn a horrendous situation into a potential bid to salvage a shot at a sixth championship. As it stands, he sits fourth in the overall standings, 98 behind leader Newgarden (489-387).
“It was just one of those nights where we just really didn’t have the pace. We burned through the tires really quickly. We tried adjusting the balance. I was really loose on the first one. Second one lots of understeer. I haven’t spoken to Felix, but looked like he was struggling with similar stuff.
“Huge credit to the team. They hung me out pretty long before the last caution. It enabled us to stay on the lead lap, get that lucky yellow there, get new tires. We were the first on the new set of tires. Had a good restart, were able to pick up some cars.
“Josef had kind of marched off out front. All in all, considering how our race was going, we were actually probably going to be happy with a top 14 or 15, so that was pretty stellar.”