By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
Motorsports Tribune reviews the season of the top 10 drivers from the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Our list continues with the third-place championship finisher, Scott Dixon.
Scott Dixon, No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
- 2017: 3rd in the championship
- Wins: 1, Top 5: 10, Top 10: 16, Poles: 1, Laps Led: 131
- Best Finish: 1st (Road America)
It was a quiet 2017 season for Scott Dixon – his first without multiple victories since 2005.
But considering the many variables associated with it, Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) have plenty of cause for optimism heading into 2018.
Dixon led the CGR quartet into a the 2017 season amid a host of questions and relative uncertainty. Team owner Chip Ganassi was tasked with finding a replacement for Dixon’s long-time sponsor – Target, who left the Verizon IndyCar Series at the end of 2016. Meanwhile, the entire organization was forced to adapt from an offseason switch from Chevrolet to Honda, where they would conceivably become the top team and rival their former Chevrolet colleagues – Team Penske.
In the end, the brunt of Dixon’s sponsorship for the year went to NTT Data. That left only performance in question for the four-time INDYCAR champion.
Early on it didn’t appear that CGR had missed a beat. Dixon tallied three podiums and five top fives in the opening five events of the season, then followed the strong early stint by storming to the pole for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500.
As he wrapped up his post-qualifying media availability that day, Dixon appeared poised to contend for his second Indy 500 win, and perhaps even a fifth VICS title.
Then his Month of May began to unravel.
That night, Dixon and former teammate Dario Franchitti were robbed at gunpoint at a Taco Bell near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When race day finally came a week later, Dixon faded out of the top spot and went for one of the wildest rides in recent Indy car history when contact with Jay Howard sent the Kiwi flying through the air before landing on top of the infield wall, flipping and skidding to a stop in Turn 2.
Dixon escaped serious injury in the incident, but was left in a walking boot and fighting pain in the days after the crash. Despite that, the 37-year-old survived the following week’s doubleheader in Belle Isle Park to tally finishes of second and sixth, respectively. The runs restored Dixon’s title chase, lifting the 17-year indy car veteran into the points lead.
Unfortunately for Dixon, the second half of his season proved consistent, but unspectacular. After a crash at Texas Motor Speedway, Dixon put together his only winning drive of the year in the summer trip to Road America. After his win, Dixon didn’t reach the podium again for five races, finishing between sixth and 10th in each of the five events as he fell out of the points lead.
Back-to-back runner-up results at Gateway Motorsports Park and Watkins Glen International helped Dixon soar into championship contention going into the final race weekend of the year at Sonoma Raceway, but his fourth-place run wasn’t enough to repeat the late season heroics he managed in his most recent title run in 2014.
Instead Dixon was passed in the standings by race winner Simon Pagenaud. After a year of uncertainty, the CGR ace wrapped up his season third on the VICS championship table.
Statistically Dixon’s season was a mixed bag. The New Zealander’s seven podiums were the most he’d managed in a season since 2011, and his 6.3 average finish was his best mark since 2010 (6.1).
However, while Dixon was a constant presence inside of the top five, he was rarely spotted in the race lead. His 131 laps led were the second fewest he’s managed in the last decade, and 2017 was the first time Dixon had failed to deliver multiple wins since his 13th-place 2005 campaign.
An aerokit change will toss Ganassi another variable in 2018. But if Dixon can manage to continue his streak of consistency from 2017, and add another trip to victory lane along the way, then he should be found among the short list of championship contenders once again when the field heads to Sonoma to wrap up another season.
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