MADISON, Illinois – It’s not the way he wanted to earn the top starting position, but Scott Dixon will gladly lead the field to the green flag in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta & Valvoline.
Verizon P1 Award qualifying was canceled Friday at Gateway Motorsports Park after periodic rain throughout the day in the St. Louis region played havoc with the track schedule. Two Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions were completed on the 1.25-mile oval. The first yielded just 22 minutes of green-flag time, leading INDYCAR officials to forego the qualifying session in favor of a longer final practice to allow teams more time to set up their cars for the race.
The 21-car starting grid for the race was set by entrant points entering the event. That put Dixon, the championship leader, on the inside of Row 1 for the 15th of 17 races on the 2018 schedule. Per INDYCAR rules, however, Dixon is not credited with a pole position. Nor does the four-time series champion earn a bonus point, which keeps his lead at 29 points over Alexander Rossi heading into the race.
“I think, ultimately, everybody wants to qualify,” said Dixon, whose 44 wins rank third in Indy car history.
“In many ways, I think INDYCAR made the right decision as far as trying to put a priority on getting some running (in final practice) … that will benefit everybody for race setup and that kind of stuff later on. It was going to be hard, I think, schedule-wise to try to get everything in.”
Had qualifying taken place, Dixon felt good about his chances in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“I think our car was pretty good,” he said. “Would we have got the pole? Maybe, maybe not.”
Rossi will start second in the race in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda. The Andretti Autosport driver was fastest in both practices, his lap of 184.424 mph in the first practice holding up as best of the day. Rossi has won the last two Verizon IndyCar Series races – at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 29 and Pocono Raceway on Aug. 19 – to slice Dixon’s points lead by more than half.
The 26-year-old Californian felt the benefits of a team test last month at Gateway featuring all four Andretti cars.
“We have a little bit of an advantage because we tested here about three or four weeks ago,” Rossi said. “All of the Andretti Autosport cars had a pretty good baseline to start from, so it’s great that the NAPA Honda was up front.”
NBCSN will air a delayed recap of Friday’s final practice at 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ahead of the live race coverage that begins at 8 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.