Lightning, rain, a damaged race car and a red flag still couldn’t prevent Scott Dixon from pulling off yet another improbable victory on Sunday. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver made six pit stops during the Nashville race, when other drivers only made two. It simply didn’t matter. Nor did his 14th starting position.
The Iceman took the checkered flag and vaulted his way into 2nd place in the championship standings, just six points out of the lead with three races remaining. After moving into sole possession of 2nd place on the All-Time Wins list ahead of Mario Andretti, Dixon now has his sights set on his seventh title, which would tie him with AJ Foyt at the top of that list.
Dixon earned his second victory of the season in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda. “Kudos to the team,” Dixon said. “We had a big crash there that took half the floor off the car. We had to take four turns of front wing out, so we had no grip. Nashville is so awesome.”
Scott McLaughlin finished second in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet, just .1067 of a second behind Dixon after a two-lap chase for the checkered after a late red flag. It was the closest margin of victory this season on a street course or road course and the fourth-closest finish on those circuits in INDYCAR SERIES history.
Reigning series champion Alex Palou finished third in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, with left front wing main plane flapping over bumps after contact earlier in the race.
Alexander Rossi rallied from multiple instances of contact during the race that put him a lap down to finish fourth in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. His Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta also recovered from early contact and going a lap down to finish an improbable fifth in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
“This place is pretty wild,” Rossi said. “I think that’s as good as a win. Huge thank you to the team for hanging in there.” His teammate agreed with that assessment. “I’m happy with how we came back, not only from starting at the back, but also being a lap down at some point that doesn’t happen too often,” said Herta.
The furious finish after 80 laps of full-contact, no-prisoners racing created a points race tighter than a piano wire with three races remaining. Just 33 points separate the top five in the standings, with a minimum of 51 points available to a race winner.
2014 series champion Will Power, who finished 11th in his damaged No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, leads Dixon by six points. 2022 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson, who finished 14th in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, is 12 points behind Power in third.
Nashville-area native Josef Newgarden, who finished sixth in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, is 22 points behind Power in fourth. And Palou is hanging tough in his effort for a second straight title, 33 points behind Power in fifth.
It was a second straight year of chaos, dice rolling and a winner in Victory Lane that hardly anyone saw coming after 80 laps of racing on the bumpy, tight, 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street circuit that includes two trips per lap on the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Cumberland River.
The two-lap dash for the checkered was created on Lap 76 when Newgarden and Romain Grosjean in the No. 28 DHL Honda made contact in Turn 9 on a restart as Newgarden moved up the field, with Grosjean ending up in the tire barrier.
Race officials decided to throw the red flag on Lap 77 so the eventful race, which also included eight caution periods, could end with one more thrill show.
Both Dixon and NTT P1 Award winner McLaughlin had similar amounts of push-to-pass left for the restart, so this would come down to a two-lap duel of who blinked first. Neither did in a masterful display of driving skill, but Dixon timed the restart perfectly and built a small gap on McLaughlin.
As the two New Zealand drivers marched around the circuit for the final time, McLaughlin wasn’t close enough to Dixon to slingshot past him on the bridge. Dixon bobbled slightly on the final corner before the checkered, but McLaughlin couldn’t sneak past.
“We were worried about him because I knew he would take chances,” Dixon said of McLaughlin. “He kind of has to with the standings at the moment. He was super fast, as well. He had fresh tires, too. I was a sitting duck. If there had been a lap or two more, it would have been really tough to do.”
McLaughlin said: “We were alongside there across the finish line. But man, we were 16th on that last pit exchange and had an awesome restart, and then the car was fast. Just fell short at the end. Congrats to Scotty. Always dreamed of racing him to the finish. That was a proper duel.”
Palou wasn’t far behind at the finish, either, finishing just .6100 of a second behind Dixon. In fact, the top four cars all finished within one second, as Rossi was just .9412 of a second behind the winner. “Every day you’re on the podium is a good day,” Palou said. “Got some points back for the championship.”
Dixon was collected in a chain-reaction incident on Lap 26 that damaged his floor and required emergency service in a closed pit on Lap 27, and he was ordered to the rear of the running order as a penalty. Dixon made his final pit stop under green on Lap 51 and caught a break one lap later when the No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet of Rinus VeeKay and the No. 15 United Rentals Honda of Graham Rahal made contact in Turn 4 and triggered a caution period.
The top 10 cars in the field pitted during that caution, which helped Dixon cycle toward the front of the field. Dixon took the lead for the first time – and for good – when Newgarden made his final pit stop on Lap 66.
Pato O’Ward was another driver that was caught up in the Lap 26 crash. He was not so lucky, as damage to his car ended his race, and likely his chance at the title this season. “The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet was strong all weekend,” O’Ward said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have much luck in the race. I saw a car slowing down so I just had to get on the brakes. What Graham did to me, I was going to do to Will. Sadly, there’s only one way to look at it and it was a big enough hit to break something in the gearbox. I just couldn’t get it into any gear. Unfortunately, that’s our day.”
Josef Newgarden and Romain Grosjean had close contact in the final laps of the race, which resulted in the Andretti Autosport driver ending up in the wall. After qualifying 2nd and in pursuit of his first career win, Grosjean was not please with the Penske driver’s move.
The Nashville native was quick to defend his position. “Welcome to IndyCar, it gets tight,” Newgarden said. “The big thing was that I was ahead at that kind of moment. It’s tight street course racing and I almost got taken out six times myself. Ultimately we had a big fight back with the PPG car, that’s all I can say.”
Dixon earned $10,000 from the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge for the victory, to be split between his team and his charity, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES event is the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Saturday, Aug. 20 at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Live coverage on the USA Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network of the last oval race of the season starts at 6 p.m. ET.