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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

IndyCar Season Review: Scott Dixon

For the second year in a row, Scott Dixon watched his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate hoist the IZOD IndyCar Series championship trophy.

Once again playing second fiddle to Dario Franchitti, Dixon nevertheless assembled a solid season, taking three victories on his way to a third place finish in the points. It was his fifth consecutive top five finish in the standings, after a fourth place in 2006, runner-up runs in 2007 and 2009, and the 2008 championship.

It was by no means as strong as his runs in the past three seasons, and this time around Dixon wasn't directly involved in the title fight at Homestead. There weren't quite as many top five finishes, even if there were still plenty of top tens. And while Franchitti solidly ate away at Will Power's points lead over the final few races of the season, Dixon didn't do much to close the gap.

But yet again, the consistent New Zealander strung together enough decent finishes to stay ahead of most of the field and accept an award at the season-ending banquet.

Dixon's season started off with an okay road course stretch, highlighted by a second place finish in the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but marred by a DNF at St. Petersburg. He entered the first stretch of oval races tied for fifth in points with Franchitti, 60 back of a dominant Power.

From there, he immediately asserted his usual championship force, taking his second consecutive win at Kansas, scoring top five finishes at Indianapolis and Texas, and entered the second stretch of road course races second in points, only 11 markers back of the lead. Things were looking good for Dixon, as he had finished fourth or better in 2009 at four of the next five tracks on the schedule.

But a low top-10 at Watkins Glen and a DNF at Toronto dropped him to third place and 78 points out of the lead, and even a win at Edmonton didn't help him make up too much ground. When the series said goodbye to road and street courses for the year at Sonoma, Dixon found himself 95 points out of the lead, still in third.

Dixon had some major opportunities to make up ground on points leader Power during the final four oval races of the season. In fact, Dixon had been the best oval driver of the past two IndyCar seasons, scoring 482 points on ovals in 2008 and 406 in 2009. Such luck was not on his side in 2010.

Finishes of eighth, seventh, and sixth at Chicagoland, Kentucky, and Motegi, respectively, left him 90 points out of the lead going into Homestead. To make matters worse, he had been passed for third in the standings by Helio Castroneves, whose wins at Kentucky and Motegi propelled him up two spots in the standings from where he had been after Chicago.

Dixon's job at Homestead was simple: ensure that Franchitti would win the championship over Power, while also trying to get by Castroneves for third in points. Dixon qualified directly behind his teammate and helped keep some of the other competitors at bay while Franchitti led the most laps of the race.

When Franchitti dropped back in the field in the race's late stages, Dixon assumed the point and led 32 of the race's final 33 laps to take his third and final victory of the year.

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