Scott Dixon trails teammate Scott Palou by 74 points with two races left in the NTT IndyCar Series season.
Dixon dominated the field at World Wide Technology Raceway, winning by a jaw-dropping 22 seconds over runner-up Pato O'Ward.
The last two races of the season are at Portland on Sept. 3 and the season finale one week after that on Sept. 10 at Laguna Seca.
When it comes to the 2023 IndyCar championship, the Ice Man isn’t melting.
Scott Dixon won Sunday’s Bommarito Auto Group 500 at WorldWide Technology Raceway, his second consecutive victory, and made a big cut into the lead of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and current points leader Alex Palou.
“Just so proud of the team, so happy for everybody,” Dixon said. “We took a pretty good penalty today with those changes (he lost nine positions on the starting grid due to an unapproved engine change), but the team was perfect. They gave me the number I needed to be getting, so a massive thank you to the No. 9 team.”
Dixon won the 260-lap event by an outlandish 22 seconds over runner-up Pato O’Ward, followed by David Malukas, Alexander Rossi and Scott McLaughlin. Sixth through 10th was Colton Herta, Palou, Felix Rosenqvist, Will Power and Marcus Ericsson.
Dixon sliced 27 points off Palou’s points lead, going from 101 points back coming into the race to 74 after taking the checkered flag. The last time Dixon won two or more races in a row was in 2020, when he won the first three races to start the Covid-plagued campaign.
“We weren’t going to lift until we totally were out of it,” Dixon said after the race. “I know everybody on this team doesn’t come into this job to be 1-2 in the championship. It’s a shame the wins came later in the season, but we’ll keep pushing here and see what we come up with.”
The last two races of the season are at Portland on Sept. 3 and the season finale one week after that on Sept. 10 at Laguna Seca along the Central California coast.
Dixon is convinced his team has yet to hit its stride and remains uber-optimistic he can overtake his teammate.
“I hope so, it’d be a lot of fun to keep (the championship) within the team,” he said. “We’ll keep working hard as a team and see what we have in the next few races.”
Palou’s respectable seventh-place finish continued his streak of not having a showing less than eighth in each of this season’s first 15 races. He is chasing his second IndyCar crown in the last three seasons, having won his first title in 2021.
But Palou did have a bit of frustration in Sunday’s race. He has seven career wins, but none of those have been on an oval—so the odds of him clinching Sunday were slim to start with even before the green flag dropped.
So now it’s all down to Dixon vs. Palou for the 2023 title. If Dixon somehow manages to steal the championship away, it would be the seventh of his career, pretty much solidifying his standing as the sport’s Greatest of All Time for at least the last two decades.
Dixon’s win Sunday was the 55th of his career, taking him one step closer to catching the GOAT, namely, A.J. Foyt, who leads all IndyCar drivers with 67 career wins.
Even if Dixon wins each of the last two races, Palou mathematically only has to finish 11th at both Portland and Laguna Seca to clinch the championship.
The driver with the longest look on his face was Team Penske pilot Josef Newgarden, who saw his bid for a third career IndyCar championship literally and figuratively hit the wall.
Newgarden came into the race 105 points behind Palou in the championship conversation, but essentially eliminated himself with 45 laps left. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner hit the wall with 45 laps to go and finished 25th, ending his hopes for a title.
“I was just trying to catch up,” Newgarden said. “I knew we were going to lose to someone in fuel save, most likely Dixon. I was just trying to get through the corner as quickly as I could and it didn’t work out.
“I got up in the marbles just a touch too high. I was trying to catch up and it ended up not being a good move.”
That could be the understatement of the year, as Newgarden came into Sunday’s race seeking to make IndyCar history. He was looking to become the first driver to sweep the season with wins on each of the five oval tracks on the schedule, including the Indianapolis 500.
He also was seeking his fourth straight win at WWTR, which would have been the first time a driver has won four straight at the same track since Al Unser Jr. won four in a row at Long Beach in the 1980s.
Even if Newgarden were to win the last two races and Palou DNQ’d in each event, it would not be enough for Newgarden to take the championship.
“We put together a good car, a good race, it just didn’t work out,” Newgarden said. “We go to the next one.”
O’Ward earned his seventh podium finish of the season – and sixth runner-up showing.
“I’m happy with the result today, another second place in the books for 2023,” O’Ward said. “There’s two (races) to go, so hopefully we will get that elusive No. 1 (win) that we’re trying to look for this season and just keep on pushing. I’m happy with the strategy today, I was happy with my car, but yeah, it was Scott Dixon.”
Daly Edges Rahal Letterman Lanigan Teammates
IndyCar veteran Conor Daly, replacing Jack Harvey (who was released nearly two weeks ago) for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, had a decent debut with arguably one of the best IndyCar teams he’s ever driven for.
Daly ended up 16th and was the highest-finishing RLL driver. Christian Lundgaard was right behind in 17th place, while the third RLL driver, Graham Rahal, was 20th.
Daly was released from Ed Carpenter Racing earlier this season after the seventh race (Detroit). Since then, the 31-year-old filled in three races for Meyer Shank Racing (with a best showing of 17th in the back half of the doubleheader at Iowa Speedway), taking the place of Simon Pagenaud, who was forced to sit out due to a concussion incurred from a horrific crash during practice at Mid-Ohio in early July.
Pagenaud continued to sit out Sunday, being replaced by Linus Lundqvist (finished 18th) for the second straight race.
It’s unclear if Daly will also drive for RLL in the season’s last two races at Portland and Laguna Seca. But given that he’s looking for a new full-time ride for 2024, any additional starts will only be in Daly’s favor.
A.J. Foyt Racing driver Benjamin Pedersen’s day didn’t even last four corners. He was punted by Ed Carpenter on the opening lap and wrecked. Even though this incident was not his fault, Pedersen, who finished last in the 28-car field, has now crashed out of six of the season’s first 15 races, along with a DQ in a seventh event. Pedersen has finished better than 20th only once this season (15th at Texas). The Danish driver is ranked 26th in the point standings and it’s unlikely he will return to AJFR next season.... Meanwhile, Carpenter was assessed a 30-second stop-and-hold penalty and quickly fell three laps behind in what potentially could be the last oval track race of his career (with the exception of the Indianapolis 500 going forward). There have been rumors the 42-year-old Indianapolis native may focus solely on his team ownership role going forward (with the exception of running solely in the Indy 500). … Helio Castroneves also made the last oval start of his career Sunday, finishing 23rd. But like Carpenter, the four-time Indy 500 winner will likely return for next year and potentially 2025 and 2026 for the 500 again in pursuit of a record-breaking fifth win.
Results, Updated Points
Bommarito Auto Group 500
1. (16) Scott Dixon, Honda, 260, Running
2. (3) Pato O'Ward, Chevrolet, 260, Running
3. (6) David Malukas, Honda, 260, Running
4. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 259, Running
5. (10) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 259, Running
6. (2) Colton Herta, Honda, 259, Running
7. (14) Alex Palou, Honda, 259, Running
8. (4) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 259, Running
9. (8) Will Power, Chevrolet, 259, Running
10. (15) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 259, Running
11. (20) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 259, Running
12. (5) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 259, Running
13. (26) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 259, Running
14. (23) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Chevrolet, 259, Running
15. (22) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 259, Running
16. (11) Conor Daly, Honda, 259, Running
17. (19) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 259, Running
18. (12) Linus Lundqvist, Honda, 258, Running
19. (18) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 258, Running
20. (21) Graham Rahal, Honda, 258, Running
21. (24) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 258, Running
22. (28) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 258, Running
23. (13) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 257, Running
24. (27) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 254, Running
25. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 210, Contact
26. (17) Takuma Sato, Honda, 119, Contact
27. (9) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 58, Contact
28. (25) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 0, Contact
Winner's average speed: 149.819 mph
Time of Race: 02:10:09.4046
Margin of victory: 22.2256 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 22 laps
Lead changes: 10 among 6 drivers
Newgarden, Josef 1 - 61
Power, Will 62 - 65
Newgarden, Josef 66 - 102
Herta, Colton 103 - 112
Dixon, Scott 113 - 125
O'Ward, Pato 126
Dixon, Scott 127 - 196
O'Ward, Pato 197 - 213
Rossi, Alexander 214 - 217
Herta, Colton 218 - 220
Dixon, Scott 221 - 260
NTT INDYCAR SERIES Point Standings:
Palou 565, Dixon 491, Newgarden 440, O'Ward 429, McLaughlin 426, Ericsson 397, Power 388, Lundgaard 343, Rossi 339, Herta 331, Kirkwood 327, Grosjean 271, Rosenqvist 270, Rahal 251, VeeKay 237, Malukas 230, Ilott 221, Ferrucci 187, Castroneves 184, Marcus Armstrong 179, Canapino 159, DeFrancesco 156, Jack Harvey 146, Daly 134, Robb 122, Pedersen 107, Hunter-Reay 102, Simon Pagenaud 88, Sato 70, Carpenter 46, Lundqvist 35, Tony Kanaan 18, Marco Andretti 13, Tom Blomqvist 5, RC Enerson 5, Katherine Legge 5
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on X (formerly Twitter) at @JerryBonkowski