Thursday, April 26, 2018
Sports

Steady Scott Dixon piles up success at Ganassi

ST. PETERSBURG

Scott Dixon began his 2013 season with a rare struggle — a 20th-place qualifying run at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

By the end of the race, Dixon had climbed his way to a fifth-place finish. And by the end of the season, he was an IndyCar series champion, again.

The 33-year-old has spent his career quietly, steadily hiding in the celebrity shadow of former teammate Dario Franchitti. With Franchitti retired, Dixon has the chance to become the face of powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing and cement his status as one of the greatest drivers in series history.

"I find he sneaks up on you," said Scott Goodyear, a former IndyCar series runnerup who is now an analyst for ABC/ESPN.

Dixon's on-track record shouldn't sneak up on anyone.

He has won three series championships (2003, 2008, 2013). He dominated the 2008 Indianapolis 500. His 33 victories are the most among active drivers and seventh in series history.

He has finished second at the Grand Prix three times, and his No. 9 Chevrolet figures to be a contender again when the green flag drops today.

"I think he's just solid … like a rock," Ganassi teammate Ryan Briscoe said. "He just gets the job done."

Dixon's success comes from a mixture of talent, dedication and stability.

He earned a win in his third CART race as a 20-year-old rookie in 2001. Since then, he has improved technically and added experience. Competitors call him a master at saving fuel.

"Scott is just relentless," said Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion. "He's a guy that goes about his business quietly, professionally. He's a guy that you always know will make your Sunday hard."

It helps that he has become a fixture in Ganassi's red cars.

No driver has ever been with the team as long as Dixon (13 years). That long partnership has formed strong bonds in the garage that pay off on the track. The team knows each other well enough that it can keep minor setbacks from becoming major problems.

"It's ridiculous," Hunter-Reay said.

Dixon and his team showed their reliability and consistency in last year's unlikely championship run. He all but counted himself out of the picture when he finished outside the top 10 in five of the first 10 races.

He fell as low as eighth in the championship hunt before winning three straight races, at Pocono and the Toronto doubleheader. Dixon finished the season with three consecutive top-fives to beat out Helio Castroneves for the series title.

"I think the comeback for us as a team was huge," Dixon said. "When it's counted, they've pulled it out or been able to stay more consistent than some of the others."

Franchitti said much of that credit belongs to Dixon.

It's easy to grow complacent after success. But Dixon and his team haven't, which is how they've finished in the top four in the points standings every year since 2006.

"He's tremendously talented, but the determination that he has is something special," said Franchitti, who retired from driving but remains an adviser at Ganassi.

"He knows how hungry he was when he was a young kid coming over from New Zealand, trying to make it all happen. Now he's got all the trappings of success, but it doesn't change his outlook."

Dixon said he has never been focused on anything besides winning. He's proud of his success, but he doesn't think about his place in history.

"I love my job. I love racing. I think that's what matters to me," Dixon said. "If you can build on those, that's fantastic. I'm not a … stats guy. I think it's something you can reflect on when you do leave the sport."

This season could be one of the most challenging of Dixon's recent career. Ganassi switched from Honda engines to Chevy, so it is adjusting to new equipment. And although Franchitti will be around, Dixon's good friend won't be in the No. 10 car to compare notes.

Franchitti and Dixon have similar driving styles, Goodyear said, but Dixon and Franchitti's replacement, Tony Kanaan, are very different. Dixon is smooth with the controls and brakes. Kanaan is harder.

That means it's tougher to compare data and setups. Goodyear said those differences might not show up until midway through the season but could have a large effect in a competitive series that featured 10 winners among 19 races last year.

Dixon said Franchitti's departure leaves a void in the series, but he's not too concerned about stepping out of his friend's shadow and into the spotlight.

"Dario will still be with the team and taking some of that limelight," Dixon said. "I'm perfectly fine with that."

Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Don’t call it a comeback: Jonny Venters return to majors with Rays much more than that

Don’t call it a comeback: Jonny Venters return to majors with Rays much more than that

BALTIMORE — First, think of what you were doing on Oct. 5, 2012, and how much has happened in your own world since then.That will give you a time frame.Next, think of the challenge of rehabbing from two Tommy John surgeries and a third procedur...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lightning to face Bruins in East semifinals

Lightning to face Bruins in East semifinals

The Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 7-4 in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series Wednesday night and will face the Lightning in the Eastern Conference semifinals beginning Saturday at Amalie Arena.Here is the semifinal schedule:Saturday: at Tampa, 3...
Updated: 4 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 25

Wednesday’s scoreboardBaseballCanterbury 5, Shorecrest 4SoftballClass 6A, District 6 Semifinal: Springstead 10, Citrus 0
Updated: 4 hours ago
Bucs draft scenarios: Would this guy be their lucky pick at No. 7?

Bucs draft scenarios: Would this guy be their lucky pick at No. 7?

TAMPA – This is the Rubiks Cube of NFL drafts. It can be twisted and turned it in any direction. Not many know how everything will line up.For the Bucs, the puzzle is simple.  Since they have the No. 7 overall pick, they need four quarterb...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Thursday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBaseballTwins at Yankees1 p.m.MLBRays at Orioles7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMBrewers at Cubs8 p.m.MLBCollege baseballAuburn at Florida7 p.m.ESPNULSU at Mississippi 8 p.m.SECCollege lacrosse, womenACC tournament: Louisville vs. Boston College11 a.m.FSFAC...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Softball: Boca Ciega edges Tarpon Springs for 6A-9 title

Softball: Boca Ciega edges Tarpon Springs for 6A-9 title

DUNEDIN — It's hard to believe that we'll see a more emotional, more exciting game than this one throughout the rest of the postseason.Top seed Tarpon Springs and No. 2 Boca Ciega were fearless with the Class 6A-9 title on the line Wednesd...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Rays Journal: A win over ex-mate Cobb, and in a record way

BALTIMORE – The Rays knew there would be all kinds of mixed feeling seeing longtime former teammate Alex Cobb pitching against them in Orioles orange.And they made sure he didn't enjoy it.The Rays knocked Cobb out in the fifth inning, and rolle...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays bring Jonny Venters back to majors

Rays bring Jonny Venters back to majors

UPDATE, 5:34: Venters, understandably, was humbled and happy to make it back. "It's hard to put into words how I'm feeling," he said. "It's been an emotional day."Venters was in uniform in the Durham clubhouse during rain delay when he got called in ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Report: Former ‘Bama starting QB to visit USF

Report: Former ‘Bama starting QB to visit USF

USF's quarterback derby could have a prominent 11th-hour entrant.Former Alabama QB Blake Barnett, the Crimson Tide's opening day starter in 2016 who transferred to Arizona State shortly thereafter, is leaving Tempe as a grad transfer, several media o...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Art of the block: Get in the way of the puck. Expect pain.

Art of the block: Get in the way of the puck. Expect pain.

BRANDON — The welts and the bruises and — yes, even the broken bones — they are the badges given this time of year to the hearty souls who, in hockey vernacular, sacrifice the body.They are awarded to the guys who knock aside wrist ...
Updated: 11 hours ago