Title may have eluded him, but Dixon still commands respect

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SONOMA, California – Although the Verizon IndyCar Series didn’t conclude the way he had hoped, Scott Dixon continued to earn respect and admiration as one of the best drivers of his era.

While other contenders spoke with optimism about their chances before the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17, Dixon lamented a year with only one win and too many missed opportunities.

While other drivers talk about races won and their accomplishments, Dixon always sidesteps basking in the glory of his impressive resume. Reflection is for when he’s retired. He keeps looking ahead.

An uncanny ability to stay focused with a bottom-line demeanor explains how the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has won four series championships and been a constant title contender in the last 15 series seasons.

Faced with the unenviable task of trying to topple four Team Penske drivers in the championship hunt this time, he was unable to get around Helio Castroneves, who was tasked with keeping Dixon behind him in the race at Sonoma Raceway. Dixon couldn’t threaten the leaders and secure a fifth title. He finished fourth in the race to end up third in the points, 21 behind champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske. 

As much as Dixon was disappointed, it’s the 12th time he’s finished fourth or better in the championship.

“He’s just continued to smash the numbers handily – the wins, the four championships,” said Dario Franchitti, a fellow four-time series champion who has been a Chip Ganassi Racing advisor since retiring after the 2013 season. “The fact that he’s been in contention for so many more, he’s a special driver, there’s no doubt about it. The fact he manages, after doing it for so long, to continue to be so motivated, that’s what makes him special.”

Even at 37 years old and after 17 seasons of driving an Indy car, the Australian-born New Zealander shows no signs of slowing down. His 41 career wins are one shy of Michael Andretti for third on the all-time list. Dixon’s biggest victory was the 2008 Indianapolis 500.

But what stands out after all these years is Dixon’s demeanor — always cool with an unflinching mindset.

“Everybody deals with pressure in different ways,” Franchitti said. “One of the marks of someone who is successful is that in a weekend like (Sonoma), when it’s all to play for, he treats it like any other weekend.

“He doesn’t let the pressure get to him. He just gets on with his job. When it’s really sometimes stacked against him, he makes it happen. As a competitor, that was a tough thing to compete against. Now with my job with the team and as his friend, when he pulls them out against impossible odds, those are cool to see.”

Team owner Chip Ganassi, who will return next season with Dixon and one another car instead of the four-car team he employed this year, enjoys having a lead driver with a no-nonsense, bottom-line approach.

“I think we’ve always had a little different mindset than most, and I think that’s one of our advantages,” Ganassi said. “That’s one of the things I like about our people and our drivers. It’s nice to have the ability to take a different mindset into a championship weekend and keep it in perspective.

“Here we are in wine country and each year, you pull a different flavor out of the same bottle of wine, if you will, that you maybe didn’t notice before.”

Before the season-ending race, Dixon was asked what it would mean to win a fifth championship.

“It means that maybe Chip would hire me again, so that would be a good positive,” he said, tongue in cheek.

Again, perspective on accomplishments is for later.

“As I've said before, I think with the stats and championships, maybe when you exit, I think you can look back on and hopefully you're proud of what you've achieved with the team I've been lucky to be assigned with 17 years now,” Dixon said.

As the season steered toward its dramatic conclusion in the final months, Team Penske competitors typically mentioned Dixon first as the serious threat. They complimented their rival as the consummate competitor. 

“Yeah, it’s nice to hear that,” he said.

But it doesn’t matter much, at least not now.

“I don't really speak to my competitors on that front or hear what they have to say or read up on it,” Dixon said.

He’ll keep looking ahead, driven to accomplish more, while others marvel at him staying in the hunt, where he's seemingly always been.

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