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Paddock Buzz: Dixon, Power Gain Ground on Leader Ericsson

The warning of objects looming larger in the mirror than expected is familiar, especially when it comes to Scott Dixon in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings late in a season.

As with many past seasons, Dixon is steadily gaining on the field. If he can continue the charge, the six-time series champion might secure his record-tying seventh title. Only A.J. Foyt has won seven INDYCAR SERIES season championships.

Dixon delivered another solid run Sunday at Iowa Speedway, finishing fourth in the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google. He entered the weekend 44 points out of the lead and heads to the final five races of the season in fourth place, 34 points behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson. Note that Dixon was sixth in the standings before winning the Honda Indy Toronto on July 17.

Officially, Dixon drove from the 18th starting position Sunday, but he said the gain “was more than that” after he dropped several positions at the start of the 300-lap race.

“I tried to attack on the last (restart), but I couldn’t pull it off,” the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda said. “The top three there were very quick, and I don’t think we had the ultimate pace on the early laps. On the long run was really good for us, and I think that’s what was good for us today to pass all those cars.”

Dixon went on to call it “a good points day.”

Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) also gained points on Ericsson, who finished sixth in the second race of the weekend doubleheader. Power had slipped to third in the standings after Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden won Saturday’s Hy-VeeDeals.com 250 Presented by DoorDash, but finishes of third and second at the wicked-fast short track allowed Power to gain massively heading to next weekend’s Gallagher Grand Prix, a race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course where he has won a series-leading five times.

Power arrived at Iowa Speedway with a 35-point deficit to Ericsson, then gained 13 points in the weekend’s first race. He gained another 14 on Sunday to draw to within eight of the lead. Power won his only series title in 2014, but he has significant experience in these battles with seven top-three finishes.

“You’d love to get the win,” he said. “I led some laps (80), and I think we were really fast. But, yeah, it’s really cool to get the Verizon Chevy on the podium again and close up the points lead.

“We’re going to get one of these wins soon.”

Johnson Strong Again

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) had more to show for his Sunday drive, his second consecutive solid effort.

In fact, the fifth-place finish was a career best for him in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. He was strong until the end, passing teammate Ericsson in the late going. While the pass cost Ericsson two championship points, he said Johnson deserved the position.

“You can tell he’s experienced on the ovals,” the Swede said. “He was doing a really good job of placing his car and placing it where I wasn’t. You could tell he’s experienced, and I’m still learning on the ovals, especially short ovals. But it was fun, very fun.”

Said Johnson: “I race my teammates with the most respect that I possibly can. Every race I’ve been in I’ve given away (positions), and this was the first time that I’ve fought for a position (with them) because I felt like I should have been up there passing (Dixon for fourth place). I made a mistake and got up in the marbles. I felt a (top-three finish) was within reach.”

Rookies on the Rise

There was so much attention on the front of the field and rightly so, but a bit deeper in the 26-car field were a pair of rookies who had strong weekends.

David Malukas finished eighth in the No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD, and Callum Ilott placed 11th in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet. Each finished on the lead lap.

Malukas’ finish allowed him to draw to within four points of Christian Lundgaard (No. 30 Shield Cleansers Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) in the Rookie of the Year contest. Lundgaard, who finished 10th in Saturday’s race, was sidelined Sunday with a mechanical failure after 112 laps.

Lundgaard and Malukas are 16th and 17th in the overall standings. Ilott is 21st, 58 points behind Lundgaard.

Odds and Ends

  • Three-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Bobby Rahal told the Associated Press on Sunday that a routine physical May 5 showed he suffered a heart attack with complete blockage. He had triple bypass surgery June 6.
  • Early in the race, Power received solid advice from his Team Penske crew. “Remember to keep breathing,” he was told.
  • Series rookie Kyle Kirkwood (No. 14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet of AJ Foyt Racing) brought out the race’s first caution when he drifted into the Turn 1 wall. Kirkwood’s car was on the outside of Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing) when race leader Josef Newgarden drove between them. That pushed Kirkwood in the slippery area of the track. “The car just didn’t turn,” he said.
  • In addition to concerts of Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line, Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton, the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend featured four-time Olympic gold medalist gymnast Shawn Johnson East and entertainer Mark Wahlberg as grand marshals. Wahlberg described Hy-Vee CEO Randy Edeker as a “partner and mentor.”
  • Teams must regroup in hurry as this stretch of five races in four weekends continues with Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course at noon ET Saturday. INDYCAR joins NASCAR in this tripleheader that includes the Cup and Xfinity Series.
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