The IndyCar field may have radically changed over the past few years, but Scott Dixon has not.
Dixon is the best at what he does, and what he does is everything. Will Power may be quicker in qualifying on a road course, Alexander Rossi may be more willing to dive deeper into a braking zone, and Josef Newgarden may be more likely to rip off four consecutive wins when he needs them, but nobody is better at the total job of driving an IndyCar than Scott Dixon.
His greatest strengths are his steady hand and his consistent speed no matter the track type, and both have been on full display through three races. The diversity of speed got Dixon into the top three at a natural terrain road course at Barber Motorsports Park and the top five at the street circuit at St. Petersburg, but it was the steady hand that was most effective in his win today at Texas Motor Speedway.
Last year, a traction compound called PJ1 was applied to the track in a failed attempt to create a viable second groove for the NASCAR Cup Series races at the circuit. The since-worn compound has actually proven to reduce grip for IndyCars, and attempts to fix the problem seem to have only worsened it. As a result, the wide outside grooves of the corners were untenable for any car today. Most tracks referred to as "Single groove" are simply not quick on the outside; today, it meant that the outside was something closer to unstable.
This, naturally, made passing more difficult than usual. As a result, qualifying position mattered more than usual. However, rain actually forced the series to cancel qualifying earlier in the day, and Scott Dixon was able to start third by virtue of his two strong early finishes. Put in a position to succeed, Dixon was able to get out to the front early and hold off the field en route to his third Texas win in IndyCar's last four races at the track.
Behind Dixon, the biggest surprise of the night came from rookie Scott McLaughlin. The field's other New Zealander named Scott charged through the field from fifteenth on the grid, easily beating out this three more experienced Penske teammates and, by the day's end, seeming to be the only driver capable of keeping up with Dixon at all. McLaughlin is the only of the year's three celebrated rookies contesting all oval rounds, so he would be the best rookie finisher by default today. Racing through a track prep crisis with far fewer career laps on an oval than the rest of the field, what he did to get to second is truly impressive.
Patricio O'Ward, Alex Palou, and Graham Rahal completed the top five. Although neither had ever won an IndyCar race before this season, both O'Ward and Palou are looking like championship contenders in their own right after showing consistently impressive speed through all three races run to date. Palou grabbed his first win in the season opener; O'Ward has still yet to win a race.
Further back in the field, three other championship contenders had much more difficult days. An exploding brake component led to an early retirement for St. Petersburg winner Colton Herta, his second retirement in three races. Josef Newgarden recovered to sixth, but early contact with Sebastien Bourdais led to a crash and briefly seemed to put Newgarden at risk of also retiring twice in his first three races. Will Power, who has won major races on ovals before but has long been considered better on road courses, finished a disappointing 14th after overcoming a catastrophic qualifying disappointment to secure 8th last weekend.
With three races run, Dixon's win and average finish of third have moved him past teammate Alex Palou for the championship lead. Power, O'Ward, and Meyer Shank Racing's consistently impressive Jack Harvey complete the top five, while Andretti Autosport stars Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi, plagued by inconsistency, are already about fifty points behind Dixon.
IndyCar racing at Texas continues tomorrow, a longer race set to be run earlier in the evening. After their impressive pace today, Scotts Dixon and McLaughlin will be the favorites for the weekend's second and final race.
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