How the 2021 IndyCar champion ended a dominant nine-year run

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images) /

Alex Palou ended one of the most dominant runs IndyCar had seen, doing so in just his first year driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.

With Felix Rosenqvist leaving Chip Ganassi Racing to replace Oliver Askew behind the wheel of the #7 Chevrolet at Arrow McLaren SP after the 2020 IndyCar season, Chip Ganassi Racing made what was perceived as somewhat of a surprising move at the time when they hired Alex Palou to drive the #10 Honda.

Palou had just finished his rookie season driving for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh. He finished in 16th place in the championship standings with a top finish of third at Road America in his third career start. He had just two other top 10 finishes throughout the 14-race season.

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But the 24-year-old Spaniard hit the ground running with Chip Ganassi’s team, and he looked as though he had been driving for the organization for the better part of two decades.

Scott Dixon-esque, in a way.

Palou’s victory in his first race as the driver of the #10 Honda at Barber Motorsports Park wasn’t lightning in a bottle, despite some doubts after a 17th place finish in his second start on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

After that, he finished outside of the top seven just once, excluding two DNFs that were out of his control. With three victories and five additional podium finishes in 16 races, Palou secured his first championship in his first year at Chip Ganassi Racing.

In doing so, he ended a nine-year run of dominance by Dixon at the powerhouse team.

Palou became the first Chip Ganassi Racing driver to beat Scott Dixon since Dario Franchitti won three straight championships from 2009 to 2011 ahead of Dixon in second, third and third place, respectively.

A total of nine drivers, including Franchitti himself, drove full-time for Chip Ganassi Racing at some point from 2012 to 2020 and had a chance to beat Dixon. It was a nine-year run for Dixon during which he won four championships and 23 races.

But in his first attempt, Palou beat him, and he did so somewhat comfortably — by 68 points. Dixon finished the season in fourth place in the championship standings and was not championship eligible heading into the season finale for the first time since 2016.

Prior to 2021, the closest that any teammate had come to beating Dixon since the 2011 season had been in the 2016 season, when he finished in sixth place in the championship standings, his only finish outside of the top four since he finished in 13th in the 2005 season. Dixon finished just 16 points and one position ahead of teammate Tony Kanaan in the standings.

Will Palou become the first driver to repeat as IndyCar champion since Franchitti won three titles in a row from 2009 to 2011? If not, will he still beat Dixon?

Dixon’s last four losses to a teammate have all seen those teammates win championships (2009, 2010, 2011 and 2021). He hasn’t lost to a teammate who hasn’t won the title since 2006, when he finished in fourth place behind teammate Dan Wheldon in second.

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The 2022 season is scheduled to get underway on Sunday, February 27 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg. NBC is set to broadcast this race live beginning at 12:00 p.m. ET. Now would be a great time to begin your free trial of FuboTV!