St. Pete Grand Prix: Why Scott Dixon is the most dominant athlete you don’t know

Only Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt have more wins than the five-time IndyCar champion.
IndyCar driver Scott Dixon as he gets ready for the IndyCar practice session in his pit area on opening day of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
IndyCar driver Scott Dixon as he gets ready for the IndyCar practice session in his pit area on opening day of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published March 8
Updated March 9

ST. PETERSBURG — To see why Scott Dixon is the most anonymously dominant athlete in North America, don’t look at the tracks where he shines.

Look at where the reigning IndyCar Series champion grinds, like the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Dixon has never won here in 14 starts. He hasn’t led a lap here since 2012, and last year’s finish was his third-worst of the season.

Sixth.

Stats like that are why the 38-year-old New Zealand native has put himself alongside Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt among the greatest in the sport’s history. Dixon’s bad days are better than most drivers’ best days.

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“Scott is good at being there, even on the days when he’s not super competitive, taking any day where you might be 11th and making it sixth or seventh,” said last year’s series runnerup, Alexander Rossi.

Dixon does a lot more than finish sixth or seventh, of course. Entering Sunday’s Grand Prix at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course, Dixon’s 44 career wins (including the 2008 Indianapolis 500) are the most among active drivers and trail only Foyt (67) and Andretti (52) for the most all time.

But the hallmark of Dixon’s career has been his remarkable consistency.

IndyCar driver Scott Dixon zooms through turn 10 during afternoon practice sessions at day one of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Friday, March 8, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]
IndyCar driver Scott Dixon zooms through turn 10 during afternoon practice sessions at day one of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Friday, March 8, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has a victory in 14 consecutive seasons. His five series titles (second all-time to Foyt’s seven) are impressive, but so is this: He has placed outside the top four in points only once in the last 13 seasons. Over the last four years, Dixon has almost as many wins (nine) as finishes outside the top 10 (12).

“It’s part of Chip’s pep talk,” Dixon said. “We’re here to win the race, but if you can’t finish first, go try and finish second. If you can’t finish second, try and finish third…

“I think the grit that Chip Ganassi has but also the team is something that’s very unique. The never-give-up kind of lifestyle that everybody kind of endures in that team really equates to spreading to everybody.”

Dixon credits his on-track consistency to his stability everywhere else.

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In a series where teams and drivers are fluid, Dixon has spent all of the last 17 seasons with the same team (Ganassi). The last 16 of them have been in the same car (No. 9). His 241 consecutive starts are the second most ever.

“With all of that, it frees up, frankly, mental bandwidth to think big picture,” NBC Sports analyst Townsend Bell said. “To think about the 1,000-foot view of how to manage a championship run, even when you’re having a bad day.”

Dixon had one of those in Portland in last year’s penultimate race, when he was involved in a first-lap wreck and ended up in the dirt. But his Honda kept running, and Dixon kept racing. He rallied to finish fifth and somehow extend his points lead.

There was unquestionably some luck involved with that save, but Dixon has made his own luck over a historic career.

Rivals marvel over his ability to conserve fuel, which shortens his pit stops and allows him make up extra positions. He rarely makes mistakes, and he’s physical enough to handle the toughest tracks.

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“He’s the most complete, I think, there is in the series,” two-time defending Grand Prix winner Sebastien Bourdais said.

Put it all together, Bell said, and you get a dominant driver — the best IndyCar has ever seen.

“I might have vacillated on that a couple years ago,” Bell said. “But I think at this point it’s pretty conclusive.”

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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