Talk about ironic.
After averaging record-breaking speeds in excess of 376km/h in qualifying, then breaking a long-standing Indianapolis 500 record for most laps led, Scott Dixon got slapped with the most costly speeding ticket of his distinguished career.
The New Zealander was on track for his second Indy 500 victory and was trying to make what should have been his final pit stop with 23 laps remaining when he locked up his Honda’s rear tires while braking.
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Officials flagged Dixon’s speed and handed him a ‘pass through’ penalty that dropped him all the way down to 21st – his fourth-worst finish at IndyCar’s signature event – and allowed Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson a maiden victory in front of 300,000.
Dixon called it “heartbreaking” after being consoled by wife Emma and it could also be legacy-defining – in a bad way.
The six-time IndyCar champion is widely considered the greatest driver of his generation and has finished second twice in the 500 since his lone victory at the Brickyard 14 years ago.
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“You average 234 miles per hour to qualify and as Scott said, a mile or so over the limit coming down pit road and that very well could be the difference of winning his second,” NBC’s Mike Tirico said on Stan Sport’s coverage.
“As we talked about pre-race, it’s something that could have put Scott Dixon in that stratosphere of IndyCar drivers.
“Again, third-most wins in series history, 51, only (Mario) Andretti and (AJ) Foyt with more. Mario obviously the bad luck at Indy, one Indy 500, AJ with four.
“It’s one of those things, like Peyton Manning winning his second Super Bowl, yeah you’re great, but now you’ve won the biggest event multiple times, there’s no fluke about it. It all adds to the pain of what we saw in those shots with that emotion.”
After the race, Dixon answered a few questions and started to trudge down pit road when he realized he forgot someone… his wife.
Dixon turned around, grabbed Emma’s hand and took off on what had to be one of the most agonizing walks of his IndyCar career.
Disappointment. Disgust. Discomfort. Dixon had to be feeling them all.
The 41-year-old had the car to beat but the penalty meant he had no luck down the stretch.
“It’s just heartbreaking, to be honest,” Dixon said.
“It must have been very close… I think it was like a mile an hour over or something. It’s just frustrating. The car was really good all day. We had really good speed. The team did an amazing job on strategy. I just messed up.”
Yup, Dixon owned it.
He climbed out of his No.9 car, apologised to each crew member he could track down and even went next door to do the same to everyone working in Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou’s box.
It was a bittersweet ending for sure.
Another Ganassi teammate, Ericsson, was celebrating, and close friend and teammate Tony Kanaan crossed the finish line in third.
Dixon – who broke Al Unser Jr’s record (644) for most laps led in Indy 500 history – got plenty of sympathy and support as he walked the grid.
Fans cheered his name. Crewmen from other teams offered condolences.
Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter stopped Dixon and asked what happened.
Kanaan and Dixon shared a long embrace. Graham Rahal patted him on the back.
Wife Emma asked both of them the same question: why did IndyCar throw that red flag with five laps to go?
It was just two years ago that race control was in a similar position – with Dixon running second to Takuma Sato — when IndyCar let the race finish under caution.
“Because there’s no consistency,” Rahal responded. “They do what they want.”
Kanaan had a different take, saying IndyCar made the right call for one reason.
“I believe we’re here for the fans,” Kanaan said.
“We hear the fans. Yeah, a lot of people are going to have different opinions about it… They came here to see a race, green flag and checkered flag race. That was the right call. That’s what people wanted to do . I’m in full support.. If I was in the stands, I want to see a race finish under the green.”
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Dixon refused to weigh in on the different race-ending approaches.
“I don’t know. We were out of it then by then so it didn’t really matter for us,” he said.
But what about 2020?
“Coulda, shoulda, woulda, right?” he said. “That’s why it’s so tough to win at this place.”
Dixon has experienced his share of angst at Indy.
He started from pole for the fourth time in the last eight years and led a race-high 95 laps, more than twice as many as Palou and 82 more than Ericsson.
“It definitely was superfast, had good speed all day,” he said. “I think if things went smoother, we would have been in the fight at the end. But obviously not.”
Still, Dixon ended up in the winner’s circle. Despite the heartache, his long walk with Emma took them to celebrate with Ericsson and his Ganassi.
“They all put their personal (feelings aside),” Ganassi said.
“Sure, they all want to win the race. I hope they all want to win. But when the team wins, they know that’s good for them.
“You have to be realistic when you have multiple cars. You can have a good day and a bad day in the same day… the good news is that the good outweighs the bad.”
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