Unheralded IndyCar champ keeps climbing the charts

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Series updates

Sprint Cup

Five-for-five: The season’s first five races have been won by five organizations —Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing, Penske Racing, Roush Fenway and Joe Gibbs Racing — tying the record for the Chase era.

Patrick first: Danica Patrick has recorded back-to-back top-20 finishes for the first time in Sprint Cup.

Hamlin injury: A small piece of metal in his eye, and not a sinus infection, caused Denny Hamlin to miss last week’s race at California. Hamlin was not medically cleared to race last Sunday.

Kenseth baby: Matt Kenseth and his wife, Katie, welcomed their third daughter Tuesday night. He has raced the past two weeks with Sam Hornish Jr. on standby.

Nationwide

Off week: The series is off until next weekend when it visits TMS for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Series points: Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne are tied for the points lead after five races, followed by Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott and Elliott Sadler.

Camping World Truck

Back to work: The series resumes this week after four weeks off. Johnny Sauter won last year’s spring race in Martinsville. Darrell Wallace Jr. won the fall race.

2 Top-five finishes in the past two races for Tony Stewart, perhaps signaling a return to form for the three-time champ as he comes back from a broken leg.

They said it

“Holy cow, what do you expect when you have a green-white-checkered finish and everyone comes down pit road to put on four tires? That’s a ‘Days of Thunder’ thing right there: ‘What do you mean, there’s two laps to go, everybody is to pit, Cole?’ — Kyle Busch, after winning the Sprint Cup race at Fontana last weekend

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Scott Dixon is a name that probably should be better known.

He’s a New Zealand driver who won the IndyCar Series championship last year. It was actually his third, so if he can win another series title, he would join A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti as the only four-time Indy series champions.

And, he is the series’ leading active winner.

Pretty good. But the 34-year-old remains less than a household name as the Verizon IndyCar Series, fresh with a new title sponsor, prepares to open the season on Sunday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I love my job. I love racing. I think that’s what matters to me,” he said, asked if he is cementing his place in the sport. “If you can build on those, that’s fantastic. I’m not a huge sort of stats guy. I think it’s something you can reflect on when you do leave the sport.”

Dixon is nowhere close to leaving the sport. He has no reason to be. Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, he is part of one of the powerhouse teams in the series. And he is one of the series’ most consistent performers.

He has finished first, second or third in points for seven consecutive seasons. He has been fourth or worse in points in only three seasons.

He wins, but fame does not come his way. Instead, it has belonged to Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart and other IndyCar Series names.

“It’s important to win championships and Indy 500s, fly the flag, obviously, for the team,” Dixon said. “But it’s not something that I wake up thinking about. I wake up thinking about that race day and trying to win that race day. I’m not looking for a goal of a certain amount of wins or championships.”

The IndyCar series will visit Texas Motor Speedway in June. Dixon has a victory at TMS from 2008, although he has been only 18th and 23rd in the last two races there.

But for now, he is thinking about a fast start as the schedule begins. Last year, he had to rally for the championship.

“I’ve been very lucky with the success we have had as a team,” he said. “I guess for us, what we try to do is build on that.”

IndyCar storylines

Some of the storylines for IndyCar as the season begins Sunday with the St. Petersburg Grand Prix:

Franchitti absence: One of open-wheel racing’s greatest champions, Dario Franchitti of Scotland has retired because of injury. He will still be a presence at Team Penske, but the organization hired a replacement, Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan, the defending Indianapolis 500 champion.

Montoya’s return: After a hit-and-miss career in Sprint Cup, Juan Pablo Montoya returns to IndyCar racing. The former Indy 500 winner and CART series champion is driving for Roger Penske this time, not Chip Ganassi, his car owner in CART and NASCAR.

Andretti’s quest: Marco Andretti finished a career-best fifth in the standings last season, but he believes he let a chance at the championship slip away in the last half of the season. This year, he’ll be in a Honda-powered car; Andretti Autosport is making the switch from Chevy, despite winning a championship with the American engine in 2012 with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Back to Ganassi: Ryan Briscoe has returned to Chip Ganassi Racing, where he started in the IndyCar Series, after leaving Team Penske. The seven-time winner will drive the No. 8 Chevy.

Helio’s climb: Helio Castroneves continues to climb the career rankings. He needs one victory to tie Rick Mears for 11th all-time. He is the active leader in starts (277, eighth all time), and is the all-time leader in earned poles with 38.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @calexmendez

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