When the going gets most chaotic, nobody in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES finds a smooth path to Victory Lane better than Scott Dixon.
Dixon did it again Sunday, overcoming a starting grid penalty and an early on-track penalty and adapting strategy to multiple caution periods to win the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. It was the third win of the season and 56th career INDYCAR SERIES victory for six-time series champion Dixon, who won on this 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit for the first time.
“A credit to this team,” Dixon said. “They’ve been executing like that all year. We got caught up in some mayhem at the start. I definitely didn’t agree with the (penalty) call, but I haven’t seen all of it yet. But I had nowhere to go. But we won; that’s all that matters. We won.”
Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda crossed the finish line 7.3180 seconds ahead of the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet of runner-up Scott McLaughlin for his third victory in the last four races of the season. Alex Palou finished third in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda to close out his championship season with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Two-time series champion Will Power finished fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, with Callum Ilott rounding out the top five in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.
Marcus Armstrong was the top rookie finisher, eighth in the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants of Chip Ganassi Racing. That was enough to clinch Rookie of the Year honors for New Zealand native Armstrong and helped CGR achieve the unprecedented feat of taking the top two spots in the standings, with Palou and Dixon, and winning the Rookie of the Year title.
Chevrolet edged Honda by just 12 points to win the Manufacturers Championship for the second consecutive season.
The first hurdle for Dixon to scale came before the green flag flew to start the race. His CGR team was penalized six spots on the starting grid for an unapproved engine change after the morning warmup, so Dixon dropped from his qualifying spot of fifth to 11th at the start.
That lower starting spot put Dixon in the middle of mayhem that erupted near the front and throughout the midfield on Lap 1. Five cars were officially counted as part of the multiple collisions and jostling in Turn 2.
Dixon’s car veered hard right in traffic exiting the calamity corner better known as the Andretti Hairpin on Lap 1 and tapped the No. 21 Bitnile.com Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing driver Rinus VeeKay into the gravel just past Turn 2. After extensive review of the entire maelstrom, INDYCAR officials assessed Dixon with a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, along with a drive-through penalty for the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Christian Lundgaard.
That penalty infuriated Dixon, known as “The Iceman” for his cool under pressure. But he chilled quickly in the cockpit, and Dixon and veteran CGR strategist Mike Hull started to devise alternate tactics to quicken a long climb from the rear of the cars still running on the lead lap.
Hull and Dixon decided to save fuel and try to finish the 95-lap race on one stop fewer than most of the rest of the field. They employed a similar strategy to win after being spun into the grass on Lap 1 of the Gallagher Grand Prix on Aug. 12 on the IMS road course and sipped fuel to win the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Aug. 27 at World Wide Technology Raceway.
When it was drawn up, the fuel-saving strategy was risky because it probably required some slower running under yellow to make it to the finish on one less stop. Dixon also couldn’t let teammate Palou, who was cruising out front while leading 51 of the first 58 laps, build a big enough lead to stay out front after the final pit cycles ended.
The yellows came that Dixon needed – and then some. And one of the caution flags flew with terrible timing for Palou.
On Lap 58, the No. 18 HMD Trucking Honda of David Malukas and the No. 29 Sapphire Gas Solutions Honda of Devlin DeFrancesco made side-by-side contact, with Malukas spinning into the gravel adjacent to Turn 3 to trigger the fifth of a race record-tying eight caution periods.
Palou was nearing the end of one of his fuel stints when the incident unfolded, but he couldn’t dive into the pits before the caution lights illuminated. He made his second and final stop on the next lap, Lap 59, and re-entered the race in 15th place with 37 laps to go.
Meanwhile, Dixon made his third and final stop on Lap 65. That ended up being one stop fewer than McLaughlin. Meanwhile, Palou couldn’t make up enough ground in the closing stages of the race to convert his two-stop strategy into catching Dixon or McLaughlin, as the last 17 laps of the race ran green despite the last four caution periods coming between Laps 58 and 75.
Dixon took the lead for good on Lap 76 when leader Romain Grosjean pitted for the last time in the No. 28 DHL Honda of Andretti Autosport. It was one of six lead changes among six drivers in a wild race that featured 432 on-track passes, an INDYCAR SERIES record for this picturesque track that features the famous “Corkscrew” turn complex.
From there, Dixon managed the gap after the final restart on Lap 78 and pulled away down the stretch of the 95-lap race with no need to save fuel.
Dixon will split $10,000 with Chip Ganassi Racing and his chosen charity, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, for his win as part of the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge.
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- Alex Palou clinches 2023 IndyCar championshipwith decisive Portland victory - September 3, 2023