When Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Helio Castroneves or Will Power wins a Verizon IndyCar Series race, they're inevitably reminded of where they stand on the all-time victory list.
It’s not that they’re consumed by the climb, but the update is expected because they're the four highest-ranked winners among active drivers.
When Power won the Honda Indy Toronto on July 17 for his third triumph in the last four races, his 28th career victory passed three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford for 13th on the all-time list. Power is now just one win behind Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves and their driver coach, Rick Mears.
“It would be nice to pass Helio,” Power said with a chuckle. “I’m catching him.”
It begs the question: Where could today’s winningest drivers end up on the all-time list?
Power is 35 years old with 165 starts in 10 fulltime seasons plus parts of two others. He’s averaging 2.6 wins per season with five races remaining in 2016. If Power continues at his current pace and raced for five more years, he would be at 41 wins, which would rank fourth behind A.J. Foyt (67), Mario Andretti (52) and Michael Andretti (42). If he raced another decade at his current win pace, that would elevate the Australian to 54.
But a rival and good friend is in position to finish higher. Dixon, the four-time series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing, is No. 1 on the active wins list at 39. The Australian-born New Zealander is 35 years old with 265 starts in 16 years. He’s averaged 2.4 wins per season. If Dixon races five more years, at his current pace, he would end up at 51. If his win percentage extended another decade, Dixon would be at 63.
“It’s hard to believe that anyone from here out, if the series continues the way it is, will be able to get up to the number like Dixon is at,” Power said.
James Hinchcliffe, pole sitter for May’s 100th Indianapolis 500, is among many who foresee Dixon climbing into rarefied air.
“You look at what he’s done since he got to this level as a wee, young lad in his early 20s, and he’s on the list of all-time winners, he’s going to keep moving up,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s inevitable. He’ll probably break his way into the top three and, I mean, that’s legend status right there.”
If anyone is anticipating Dixon’s arrival into the top three, it’s Michael Andretti. Now a successful team owner of Andretti Autosport, Andretti has broached the subject more than once with Dixon.
“I know Dixon is going to pass me,” Andretti said. “If it’s not this year, it will be next year.”
While Dixon insists he’s not thinking about it, Andretti says otherwise.
“It’s definitely on Dixon’s mind, I can assure you,” Andretti said. “He’s thinking about it. We’ve even talked about it.”
Dixon laughed when asked about Andretti’s opinion.
“Years ago, he was like, ‘You’re really worrying me on the all-time wins list,’” Dixon said. “I think I was like still in my late 20s or early 30s in wins and I’m like, ‘You don’t have to worry about that, man.’”
But now Andretti does.
“We’re all very lucky doing what we do and I just love driving,” Dixon said. “I think those things are something you can look back on. For me, right now, it (career wins) is not my focus. My focus is to win races. Wherever my number is at, that’s where I’m at.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic to be spoken about and to be on a list with some very prominent names feels very good, but it’s not in my forefront of thinking and something I’m focused on.”
Castroneves, 41, has 322 starts (fourth all time) in 19 seasons. Although the three-time Indy 500 winner from Brazil hasn’t won since June 2014, he averages 1.5 wins per year. Five more years at his current pace would push his career total to 36.
Bourdais, 37, is tied with Bobby Unser for sixth place at 35 victories. He’s had 158 starts in 11 seasons sandwiched around a two-year stint in Formula One. His seasonal win pace is 3.1 per year. While Bourdais has won four races the past three years in the Verizon IndyCar Series, the previous 31 came in CART and Champ Car from 2003-07, so it seems unlikely he would win enough to crack the top three.
Like Dixon, Bourdais shrugs when the topic is broached.
“I haven’t looked,” the Frenchman said of the all-time list. “I actually don’t even know where I’m at.”
When shown the list, the KVSH Racing driver sounds like Dixon in his assessment that today’s drivers can’t be fairly compared to the best drivers of yesteryear.
“You’re talking about high profiles, legends in the sport,” Bourdais said. “I don’t know if it’s false modesty or whatever, call it whatever you want, but I don’t really feel like I compare to most of those guys up there, Mario, A.J., Al Unser Sr. That was back when they were real men out there. They were racing with broken ankles. They were sometimes doing it broken. Back then, it was a whole different ballgame.
“Maybe back then it was easier to win races if you were in the dominant car because there were so many differences. The field now is so competitive. But back then, you had to survive the era. That was just a whole different achievement.”
Dixon thinks it’s “weird” to see his name among legends.
“These are guys we all looked up to, no matter where you are in the world or what sporting playground you’re in. Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Michael Andretti, these are names everybody knows,” Dixon said.
Power said he used to consider three wins in a season as a reasonable goal, but considers the series so competitive now, it’s difficult to win more than that. But he suggests Bourdais, a four-time Champ Car series champion, has the talent to move up the list.
“You put Bourdais in a Penske car or a Ganassi car and suddenly he’d be back to winning three races a year,” Power said.
As for himself, he doesn’t envision threatening Michael Andretti for a top-three spot.
“I never see myself among a name like Michael Andretti,” Power said. “Michael was absolutely a legend in the CART days. As phenomenal as Michael was, as good as he was, and he won one championship. He was such a race-winning driver, I feel his pain.
“It hasn’t been big on my radar. When you win a race, you get reminded again: ‘Oh, you’re at 26. You just passed this guy.’ The more races you win, the better you feel.”