Scott Dixon pulled open his playbook from when he throttled the field at Texas Motor Speedway in 2020 and put it to good use as he completely dominated the opening oval race of 2021 on Saturday night in Dallas-Fort Worth.
During the opening half of the NTT IndyCar Series doubleheader at TMS, the New Zealander swept past teammate and polesitter Alex Palou on Lap 3 and controlled the 212-lap show to earn his first win of the year, fifth at TMS, and set a new record by earning at least one victory in 19 consecutive seasons.
Behind Dixon, a fellow Kiwi in Team Penske rookie Scott McLaughlin was the star of the show as he wheeled the No. 3 Chevy from P15 to P2, just 0.2646s behind his idol.
“Man, I love this place,” Dixon said. “It was a bit of a crazy night for us. It was cool to be racing a countryman for those last laps. Fifth win at Texas, that was pretty awesome. That was cool! We won, that’s what counts.”
McLaughlin couldn’t believe he ran runner-up to Dixon in his first oval race.
“I’ve never been this bloody happy with second,” he said. “I didn’t have enough for Scott (Dixon) at the end but it was cool battling with one of my all-time heroes. Two Kiwis, 1-2, that’s fantastic and I can hardly wait until tomorrow.”
Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward was crestfallen after starting on pole to open the season at Barber Motorsports Park, only to lose the chance to win after a poor strategy call by the team took the No. 5 out of contention. Fortunes swung in the opposite direction at Texas Race 1 as a call by the same strategist—AMSP president Taylor Kiel—to pit early in the window at the mid-point of the contest vaulted O’Ward forward.
— Chip Ganassi Racing (@CGRTeams) May 2, 2021
Although he wasn’t a match for Dixon or McLaughlin, O’Ward claimed P3 and put a rough event last weekend at St. Petersburg behind the team.
“That was the call, man,” he said. “I knew we had such a fast car. I knew in clean air we could make up some positions. What a great race car. We’re ready for tomorrow. This is a very good step in the right direction.”
Consider how CGR was the only major team to skip testing at Texas prior to the event, and Dixon’s win, coupled with Palou’s educational run to P4, Marcus Ericsson’s superb form prior to a pit stop error, and Tony Kanaan’s spirited run from P23 to P11 would suggest the four-car squad outperformed expectations.
“It was a good day,” Palou said of the No. 10 Honda effort. “I learned a lot. It was the first time we’ve finished on an oval in the top five. We were good, but just needed more experience.”
New year. Same Results.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 2, 2021
For good measure, CGR led every lap, with Dixon responsible for 206 and Palou the other six.
Graham Rahal, always a strong performer at Texas, was P5, and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, penalized and sent to the back of the lead lap for hitting and crashing Sebastien Bourdais, recovered to complete the top six in the No. 2 Chevy.
Running P6 at the time, Bourdais was slowed by Colton Herta, and from behind, Newgarden tipped the A.J. Foyt Racing driver into a spin after nosing into the No. 14 Chevy’s attenuator. Bourdais was uninjured, but his car was a thorough mess after clouting the wall on Lap 55. The second and final caution arrived on Lap 158 when James Hinchcliffe spun and crashed after being passed by Felix Rosenqvist. Like Bourdais, Hinchcliffe, whose return to the series as a full-timer has been punishing, walked away uninjured. The damaged No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda should be repaired well before Sunday’s race.
The Genesys 300 wasn’t a thriller, but it added to a number of themes that have developed through the opening three races. Honda-powered drivers are 3-0. CGR drivers are 2-1. Andretti’s team has a win with Colton Herta, who retired on Lap 190 with malfunctioning rear brakes. Team Penske is 0-3. And Jack Harvey, who isn’t out to make friends, holds P5 in the championship with the upstart Meyer Shank Racing team.
The battle resumes on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.
AS IT HAPPENED
With qualifying cancelled after rain delays left a minimal amount of time between practice and the race, the field took the start for 212 laps of intense action based on championship points. It meant that some drivers would start near the front after running poorly in practice, while others who showed a lot of pace were taking the green flag from midfield or the back of the 24-car pack.
Starting P1, Alex Palou charged into Turn 1 with teammate Scott Dixon directly behind. Dixon swept around the outside on entry to Turn 1 on Lap 3. By Lap 10, Dixon held a 1.3s lead over Will Power in third. Lapping at approximately 24 seconds per lap, Dixon was nearly a half-lap ahead of last-place Dalton Kellett by Lap 15. Palou, comfortable in P2, was roughly 0.5s behind Dixon as the two circulated in tandem.
By Lap 20, Power was 1.5s back from Dixon, Colton Herta was 2.0s behind in fourth, and Simon Pagenaud was 3.0s arrears in fifth. Lap 23 showed Dixon’s margin to Josef Newgarden in P11 was 6.5s and Alexander Rossi in P14 was 8.4s. CGR was in command early.
As teams reached the halfway point in the stint, early progress from some at the back was frozen as Tony Kanaan, who started P23, was stuck in P20. Conor Daly started P24, made it to P23, and didn’t progress. The story was similar throughout the field.
Lap 42 arrived and Newgarden was 12.0s behind Dixon in P11; Lap 43 showed Pato O’Ward 13.6s back in P13 and Rossi 14.6s down in the same P14.
By Lap 50, Dixon was into lapping the tail-end cars as the field was circulating in the 202-205mph range. Graham Rahal was the first to stop on Lap 52 as the rest of the field were expected to do the same within the next 8-10 laps. Packed up behind Daly in P23, Dixon and those in his wake were slowed to a crawl—a lap of 191mph by the leader—while stuck behind the slowest runners.
The first caution flew on Lap 57 when Sebastien Bourdais crashed after being hit from behind by Newgarden. Bourdais was running P6 when it happened.
The timing of the crash impacted those who were behind by Dixon and Palou and pitted just prior to the stoppage. Power, Marcus Ericsson, O’Ward, Pagenaud, Sato, Rahal, and a few others would fall out of the top 10 once the pits opened. Newgarden was sent to the back of the cars on the lead lap for taking out Bourdais.
Dixon, Palou, and the others needing fuel and tires pulled in on Lap 64 as IndyCar took a fair amount of time to reposition certain cars while circulating under yellow.
The green waved to start Lap 72 and Dixon nailed the restart over Palou. Power was down in P13 until O’Ward got by; Pagenaud ran P15. The top Penske driver on Lap 83 was Scott McLaughlin in P6, chasing Rossi.
The race’s second stint fell into a familiar routine by Lap 95.with Dixon holding 0.6s on Palou in P2, 3.5s on Herta in P3, 4.4s to Jack Harvey in P4, and 4.7s to Rossi in P5. Lap 100 showed Ed Carpenter, Ryan Hunter-Ready, and Daly P21-P23, running a lap down to Dixon. Palou was 1.0s back from the leader.
O’Ward was first to stop on Lap 113 at the early side of the second pit stop window. As the pace slowed on ageing tires, Dixon’s margin to Palou remained stable at 0.7s or so, but the group in P3-P6 were all within 3.0s as average speeds fell to 201-205mph. Once past Dalton Kellett’s car, Dixon dialed up the speed to put 2.2s over Palou on Lap 118. It moved out to 3.7s on Lap 120 as Dixon turned a 209mph lap—faster than all but the few like O’Ward who were on new Firestones.
Palou was 6.9s back to Dixon on Lap 124 and the leader pitted on Lap 126 with a handy advantage to the rest of the field. Once the rest of the drivers cycled through pit lane, the decision to leave Palou out for a few more laps allowed Rosenqvist and McLaughlin, who came in early, to take P2 and P3 as the CGR driver emerged in P4.
By Lap 140, Dixon’s lead over Rosenqvist was 2.8s, while being 5.2s up on McLaughlin and 5.9s to Palou. Stuck behind Hinchcliffe in P21, Dixon’s lead was cut down to 0.2s on Lap 154, but once he got by the following lap, it grew to 1.3s by Lap 157 as Rosenqvist and McLaughlin were left to try and find a way by the Andretti driver.
Hinchcliffe was in the wall on Lap 160 as the second caution was required to a car from Turn 2. A pass by Rosenqvist into Turn 1 happened without crowding the Andretti driver. Hinchcliffe’s car appeared to have an inadequate amount of air reaching the front wings at a crucial cornering phase and as a result, the car slid up the track, spun, and hit the wall with the left-rear corner.
The Lap 176 restart was identical to the last as Dixon charged away. McLaughlin was 0.6s back by Lap 181, O’Ward was 1.1s arrears in P3, Palou was in P4 with a 1.4 separation and Herta was 1.5s behind in P5. Newgarden, having overcome the Bourdais penalty, was P7 as the field had more than enough fuel to go full speed to the finish. Saving tires was the only mission that mattered in pursuit of the checkered flag.
Lap 190 had McLaughlin just 0.3s behind Dixon as Colton Herta slowed and pitted on Lap 191 when a brake fire on the right-rear ended his day while running P6.
Lap 200 was kinder to Dixon whose advantage to McLaughlin was up to 0.7s and O’Ward was 1.1s back. Palou was a distant 2.2s behind in P4. Dixon held on to win by 0.2s over his countryman.