LEXINGTON, Ohio — A sinking feeling overcame him from the start, when Scott Dixon realized something was wrong with the rear of his No. 9 NTT Data Honda in the opening laps of Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
It wasn’t long before Team Penske rival Simon Pagenaud passed Dixon for sixth place in the 90-lap race on the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Instead of racing for a win — where Dixon has tasted victory five times in his celebrated career — as well as trying to protect his Verizon IndyCar Series points lead, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver was reduced to salvaging what he could from a challenging afternoon.
A pit-stop issue with a jammed air gun also set the team back as Dixon ended up in ninth place, his second-worst finish in 11 starts at Mid-Ohio. The worst result was 22nd last year.
The four-time series champion subsequently dropped to third place in the ever-competitive point standings. Race winner and new points leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske leads Dixon by eight points. Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves is second, one point ahead of Dixon.
“Yeah, really bizarre, even from the get-go, we started the race with an over-boost on the initial start and then, I don’t know, the car just had no rear end all day, especially when we went to that second stint there,” Dixon said.
“We were two or three seconds a lap off to the whole field. I was just trying to maintain anything, but I couldn’t turn. As soon as I turned the wheel, it wanted to spin out.”
Dixon was forced to pit earlier than the leaders, which dropped him near the back. He worked his way up to ninth, but couldn’t contend with the quickest cars.
“We took a ton of front wing out on stops to help it,” he said. “It helped a little bit on the blacks (Firestone primary tires), but it still didn’t fix it. I think something mechanically was broken on the rear of the car.
“Then we had a gun failure, too, which killed us on that pit stop. It was just one of those days where everything possibly could go wrong. It’s frustrating, but that’s how it goes sometimes. We’re very fortunate to be where we are. We still have an opportunity. It’s still a very tight points race.”
Dixon is in an intense points tussle with four Team Penske Chevrolets as well as Graham Rahal’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Pagenaud, the defending series champion, is nine points behind Dixon in fourth place. Will Power, who finished second for the fourth time at Mid-Ohio, is in fifth place, 35 points behind Pagenaud. And then Rahal, who finished third at his home track Sunday, is six points behind Power, the 2014 series champion.
“Obviously, congratulations to Josef,” Dixon said of Newgarden, who celebrated his third victory of the season and second in a row. “We didn’t get to see much of the front of that car today. Congrats to him.
“Obviously, Team Penske is strong. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
Dixon arrived at Mid-Ohio with a tenuous three-point lead on Castroneves, who finished in seventh place Sunday. The mindset this time of year, with four races remaining, is that it’s time to make a move.
“We've been thinking that for the last couple of races, too,” Dixon said. “Right now, we’ve just got to do the best that we can. We’ve got to make the most of it. We’ve got some tough races coming up, but we can definitely make the most of it and make a charge here.”
The series shifts to oval racing for the next two events. First up is Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, for the ABC Supply 500 on Aug. 20 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). Then it’s on to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois, for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline on Aug. 26 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
After a Sept. 3 stop in Watkins Glen, New York, for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network), the points will be double for the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17 (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
“We’ll keep digging here,” Dixon said. “It was just one of those days. It was one to forget.”