Scott Dixon comes into the second-to-last race of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season as one of just two drivers with a chance at the open-wheel series’ championship.
It won’t be an easy task for Dixon to rally and win the Astor Cup trophy and IndyCar crown No. 7, as he is a formidable 74 points behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou.
Palou is vying for his second championship in the last three years.
Six-time champion Scott Dixon has done a number of amazing things in his IndyCar career.
Included among his feats are six series championships—one shy of A.J. Foyt’s record—as well as a win in the 2008 Indianapolis 500 and four other podium finishes in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing (runner-up in 2007, 2012 and 2020, and third-place in 2018). He also has 55 career IndyCar wins, just 12 shy of tying Foyt’s wins record.
It’s no wonder Dixon—nicknamed the “Ice Man” for his cool demeanor behind the wheel, rarely ever getting flustered—is considered by many as the greatest driver of all-time in modern-day IndyCar racing.
But the New Zealand native may have the biggest challenge he’s ever faced in Sunday’s BITNILE.com at Portland International Raceway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock and the IndyCar Radio Network).
The 43-year-old Dixon comes into the second-to-last race of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season as one of just two drivers remaining with a chance at the open-wheel series’ championship.
However, it won’t be an easy task for Dixon to rally and win the Astor Cup trophy and IndyCar crown No. 7, as he is a formidable 74 points behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou, who is vying for his second championship in the last three years.
Dixon essentially must win both Sunday’s event and the season finale next Sunday, September 10, at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca to have ANY chance of beating Palou.
On the flip side, Palou needs to leave Portland with a lead of at least 55 points to clinch the championship. If he does so, he becomes the first driver to win the title NOT in the final race of the season in the last 16 seasons (Sebastien Bourdais did so in the penultimate race of the 2008 season).
There’s even more bad news for Dixon: Palou can clinch the championship if he finishes 11th or better at Portland. So even if Dixon wins the race, if Palou finishes 11th or higher, the title is his.
And the Spaniard’s track record this year is immensely in his favor that he’ll indeed finish 11th or better, given that in the first 15 races of the 17-race schedule that have been contested thus far this season, the 26-year-old Palou has finished no lower than eighth.
Yet, even if Dixon wins Sunday and Palou winds up with his worst outing of the season to date, Dixon still has to win at Laguna Seca—and Palou still can clinch the crown if he finishes 13th or higher.
But here’s the most simplistic bottom-line explanation of who has to do what: not including potential bonus points, Palou needs to earn just 35 total points over the next two races to take home the trophy. Of course, if he wins Sunday, it’s all over (even if Dixon finishes runner-up).
Dixon, meanwhile, needs to earn 108 points to clinch his seventh crown—winning each of the last two races (each win is worth 54 points). And that may still not be enough if Palou keeps his current streak of outstanding finishes going.
Palou also has four wins thus far this season (tied with Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden for the most this year), but Dixon is coming on strong of late with wins in each of the last two races (also his first two triumphs of 2023).
As for their individual records at Portland, Dixon has finished third in each of the last two races on the treacherous permanent road course there (also finished fifth in 2018 and 16th in 2019, plus finished seventh in each of his first two seasons in CART in 2001 and 2002).
Palou, meanwhile, has raced just twice at Portland in his career, winning in 2021 and was 12th last season.
But don’t forget one thing: PIR has arguably the most treacherous first turn in all of IndyCar. It’s a rarity when Turn 1, particularly at the start of a race, doesn’t claim several victims. If Dixon can get through that turn, survive any potential carnage, and Palou winds up being taken out, we have an entirely new championship battle potentially.
And if that battle indeed continues into Laguna Seca, Dixon has finished third, 13th and 12th in each of the last three races there, while Palou definitely has the strong advantage, finishing runner-up in 2021 as he clinched the championship, and won last year’s season finale there by a massive 30-second margin.
There’s one other compelling matter IndyCar fans—and particularly fans of Dixon and Palou—must keep in mind, or at least keep their eyes on the lookout for.
In one of the sport’s most significant rarities, obviously the two remaining drivers vying for the championship are members of the same team.
As a result, their two other teammates that are not still in the running, 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson (who is headed for Andretti Autosport next season) and Marcus Armstrong cannot play favorites and try to adjust their respective racing strategies to favor either of their ‘mates.
In other words, neither Ericsson nor Armstrong can be rolling roadblocks to prevent drivers from other teams a shot at overtaking either of their teammates. They basically have to let the race play out on its own merits and leave it solely to be Palou vs. Dixon.
Really, the only drivers who could have a say – if you want to call it that – in what Dixon or Palou can ultimately do this Sunday, particularly keeping opposing Chevrolet-powered drivers from raining on the two Honda finalists’ parades, are fellow Honda drivers for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Andretti Autosport, Meyer Shank Racing or Dale Coyne Racing.
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on X (formerly Twitter) at @JerryBonkowski