Ever since it began a few years ago, the early May race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway served as a good momentum builder for the big show on Memorial Day weekend.
If that's the case this year, the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field might feel a bit nervous that nothing seems to be able to slow down Scott Dixon this year.
Despite battling a loose car for most of Saturday's INDYCAR Grand Prix, the No. 9 NTT Data Honda driver stayed in the hunt for victory all day and came home with a solid second-place finish.
“We were hoping that with a warmer ambient temperature that we would maybe pick up some understeer, but definitely big time on the (Firestone prime) blacks there and the first stint on the (Firestone alternate) reds was tough,” said Dixon.
“We are pushing as hard as we can and it was nice to get around a couple of Penskes.”
The second place on the Brickyard road course was Dixon's third of the season and helped him move to within 10 points of championship leader Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet). The Chip Ganassi Racing driver's worst finish in five starts this year is a fifth place in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.
It should be noted that the only other time Dixon racked up three podiums before the Indianapolis 500 was 2008, the year he drank the milk in victory lane. That year, he started on pole and led a race-high 155 laps.
Nevertheless, Dixon downplayed the significance of his strong start to 2017 as the focus shifts to the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Practice for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” begins today.
“It matters for the championship, for sure, but the 500 is definitely its own event and, you know, excited to start off the month (well), I think, with Honda,” he said.
“We didn't win the first race here at Indy, so hopefully we can win the second one coming up (May 28).”
Dixon crossed the finish line 5.283 seconds behind winner Will Power, who took his first win of 2017 and the 30th of his Indy car career.
If it weren't enough to worry about the threat from the charging, four-time champion Dixon, No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driver Power also seems to have hit his groove as the Indy 500 looms.
After rough start to 2017, fans have seen the Power of old in the past three races. Although an agonizing tire puncture robbed him of a win in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama three weeks ago at Barber Motorsports Park, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion scored his first podium of the year two weeks ago in Phoenix before tasting victory on Saturday.
“It's funny, momentum, once your whole team and crew believes that you have a shot at winning races, which we have had all year, but when you execute it, it definitely gives them confidence,” Power said.
“It's just good to get a win and very, very good for everyone.”
Good for everyone is debatable, especially if Power can keep things going his way for the rest of May.
While the pair of champions seem to be kicking it into gear, another performance in the INDYCAR Grand Prix stood out as a huge momentum-builder.
Graham Rahal's incredible run in the No. 15 SoldierStrong / TurnsForTroops.com Honda from the back of the grid cannot be ignored. After a disappointing qualifying, Rahal put on a passing clinic to move up from 20th to sixth by the finish.
“We were on attack mode on the first stint,” he said. “It's just a good way to start the month. I'm looking forward to the 500 coming up here.”
After an outstanding performance that delivered his first top-10 result of 2017, Rahal will be riding high as preparations for the 101st Indy 500 get into full swing.
On top of his climb up the time sheets, Rahal also raised $100 per lap for Turns for Troops, pushing the total to the maximum $8,500 on the day. Another $20,000 is possible should be complete every lap in the Indy 500.
An honorable mention goes to Spencer Pigot (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet), who put in a strong drive from 16th to ninth and scored his second top-10 of 2017, despite losing time due to a stall during a pit stop.
Indianapolis 500 practice begins at noon ET today with two hours for the rookie orientation program and refresher track time for veterans who haven't competed on the 2.5-mile oval for some time. Practice is open to all competitors from 2-6 p.m. ET. A live video stream, complete with timing and scoring, is available every practice day at RaceControl.IndyCar.com.