Once again, Dixon thinking about the titles that got away

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Although a five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, Scott Dixon has mentioned how he tends to dwell more on the titles that have eluded him.

The 39-year-old New Zealander had an opportunity to accomplish something he has never done this past season in trying to repeat as champion.

When it didn’t happen in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sept. 22 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Dixon sounded rather matter of fact about accepting his fate as Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden celebrated his second title.

Dixon admittedly was a long shot this time — he realistically needed too much to happen in the double-points race. He entered 85 points behind Newgarden. A solid third-place finish left Dixon a distant 63 points behind Newgarden in fourth place.

“Well, this one hurts a lot less than some of the others we’ve had,” Dixon said after climbing out of his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on pit road.

The most obvious outcome he’ll never forget was in 2007, when he came within a third of a final lap at Chicagoland of repeating. The points leader was out front in the race, that championship in sight, then ran out of fuel. Dario Franchitti passed him to win the race and the title.

Two years later at Homestead, Dixon was leading Franchitti by four points entering the season finale. Dixon finished third but had to settle for second in the points when his teammate Franchitti won the race and the championship. It was the second of four titles for the Scotsman and would start a string of three in a row.

When Dixon claimed his fifth title in 2018, he pointed to how everything seemed to fall in place. He escaped from the dirt without serious damage after a first-lap, multi-car incident at Portland and, much to the dismay of other contenders, surged back through the field to salvage fifth place. He then finished strong with a second at Sonoma to celebrate the crown in a shootout with Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who placed seventh to end up second.

But this year proved to be different at the end, when Dixon encountered misfortune in the previous two races before the season finale. He was leading at Portland when his battery failed, which resulted in a 16th-place finish. The race before that at Gateway, he exited in 20th with a radiator issue.

“Each championship is very different in its own right,” Dixon said. “I think the last two races (of this season) would have made it a lot different for us, depending on which pressure you applied on different people. I don’t know, I feel like every year people have those scenarios where if they could have changed a couple of things, it would have been a lot different.

“No regrets. We tried hard this year and just came up a little bit short. You win some, you lose some. Congrats to Josef, he had a fantastic year and Penske did a hell of a job.”

His 46 career wins rank third on INDYCAR’s all-time list, which means no driver in the paddock commands more respect.

Penske paid Dixon the ultimate compliment at Laguna Seca when the Hall of Fame owner said, “I look at Dixon as the guy we've got to beat every weekend in and out.”

Since Dixon’s first series title in 2003, his average points finish in 16 seasons is 3.5. Yeah, he’s always in the hunt. In addition to those five titles, he has finished second twice and third five times. This was his second fourth place.

And it’s not like 2019 wasn’t productive. Dixon extended his record streak of winning at least one race in consecutive seasons to 15, two more than Team Penske’s Will Power, with a victory at Detroit. Dixon also prevailed at Mid-Ohio.

On the career list of most seasons with at least one win, Dixon’s 17 is second only to A.J. Foyt’s 18, so he’s in position to make more history in 2020.

“We’re happy with the year,” Dixon said. “We just needed to not have so many issues. That mid-portion of the season, we lost a lot of points. And then the last two races before here would have made the year a lot different.”

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