While seeing a second Indy 500 win escape hurts enough as it is, Scott Dixon’s penalty could have massive ramifications as it pertains to the IndyCar championship.
When Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon took the pole position for the 106th running of the Indy 500 with a record average pole speed of 234.046 miles per hour during his four-lap qualifying run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last Sunday, the last thing anybody wanted to discuss was his recent struggles from the top spot in the field of 33.
Dixon won the 2008 Indy 500 from the pole position, but in three starts from the pole position since then, he had finished no higher than fourth place.
In 2015, he dominated the race, only to be shuffled back to fourth late and unable to recover. In 2017, he was involved in a spectacular crash with a car running seven laps off the lead lap. And in 2021, an untimely caution led to him running out of fuel approaching his first pit stop, an issue from which he could never fully recover. In those three races, his average finish was 17.67.
But would pole position number five, second most all-time behind Rick Mears, produce another disappointment?
It didn’t look that way at first, as Dixon, who began the race with 570 career laps led around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) oval in Speedway, Indiana, led 95 laps, allowing him to break the all-time record held by the late Al Unser (644) on lap 133.
Yet nearing the end of an effectively perfect race, the six-time IndyCar champion somehow found yet another way to give it away.
It’s something that, for Dixon, as strange as it sounds, you’d only expect to see at Indy.
Entering the pits for his final stop of the race, he came in too hot, resulting in a speeding penalty. He was issued a drive-through penalty after receiving his final service of the day, completely knocking him out of contention for the win.
He owned the mistake, but that did little to ease the pain of watching a second Indy 500 victory slip away in the closing laps of the race — a race of which he had led the majority of the laps, at the time.
After leading the most laps for the sixth time in 20 Indy 500 starts, Dixon was forced to settle for 21st place.
He scored all 15 possible bonus points, including 12 for taking the pole position, one for leading at least one lap, and two for leading the most laps. But instead of scoring the additional 100 points (doubled from the normal 50) for winning the race, he scored just 18 (doubled from the normal nine) by finishing in 21st. So he scored 33 instead of a perfect 115.
If we assume he wins the race without the penalty, that’s an 82-point loss.
But in terms of the championship, it’s actually more of a loss than that.
Teammate Marcus Ericsson, who went on to win, would have scored 20 points less with a second place finish (89 instead of 109), and Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, who finished in second, would have scored 10 points less with a third place finish (77 instead of 87).
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou, the reigning series champion who rallied to finish in ninth place after experiencing his own pit issue, albeit not of his own doing, earlier in the race, would have scored four points less with a 10th place finish (52 instead of 56).
So relative to Ericsson, Dixon lost 102 points. Relative to O’Ward, he lost 92. Relative to Palou, he lost 86 points.
Following the race, Ericsson finds himself leading the championship standings for the first time in his IndyCar career, jumping from eighth to first place with his victory, and O’Ward sits in second after jumping from sixth. Palou sits in third, down one spot from second, and Dixon sits in sixth, down one spot from fifth.
Ericsson has scored 226 points in six races, while O’Ward has scored 213 and Palou has scored 212. Dixon has scored 166.
But if you assume Dixon wins in front of Ericsson in second place, O’Ward in third, and Palou in 10th, it is Dixon leading the standings with 248 points. He would be sitting 40 points ahead of Palou in second, 42 points ahead of Ericsson in third, and 45 points ahead of O’Ward in fourth.
Considering the fact that none of the 10 remaining races on this year’s 16-race schedule are double points races, that gap is one that is just barely closeable in a single race weekend.
Against a driver of Dixon’s caliber, it’s basically not closeable in a single race weekend.
Dixon has historically been known for coming on strong at the end of seasons as opposed to the beginning. But while he hadn’t had the strongest of starts to the 2022 season, having finished no higher than fifth place entering the race, he also hadn’t finished worse than 10th.
So while there is still plenty of time remaining in the 2022 season, giving him 40-point lead in the standings — plus some serious momentum — this early in the year could have been a recipe to a record-tying seventh IndyCar championship.
Instead, he sits 60 points out of the lead, and there are five drivers, including two teammates, sitting between himself and that lead.
And while he could be 40 points ahead of second place, a 40-point drop from his current position would be a drop all the way down to 15th.
Dixon’s penalty is one that will be hard not to think about moving forward. And as disappointing as it is in terms of just the Indy 500 itself, the effects of it will be felt moving forward throughout the rest of the 2022 IndyCar season.