Fifth Gear: Honda Indy Toronto

It works well that Chip Ganassi likes winners and leaders because he has both following the Honda Indy Toronto, the 10th race of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.

Sunday’s race win by six-time series champion Scott Dixon was his first of the season and tied him with Mario Andretti for second place on the sport’s all-time wins list, each with 52. Only A.J. Foyt (67) has more.

But don’t overlook that Marcus Ericsson, in his third season with Chip Ganassi Racing, not only maintained the series points lead with a fifth-place finish, he increased his advantage over the field. Will Power, who is second, fell 15 points by finishing 15th, allowing Ericsson to extend his lead to 35 points.

Seven races remain, and this weekend’s doubleheader at Iowa Speedway sponsored by Hy-Vee offers two of the most important days left in the chase for the Astor Challenge Cup. But Ericsson is increasingly put himself in position to become the third consecutive Chip Ganassi Ganassi driver to win the series championship, following Dixon in 2020 and Alex Palou in 2021.

No other team in the sport’s history has had three drivers win consecutive titles, although three in four years has been done a few times in the modern era, beginning with Penske Racing from 1984-88 when Rick Mears won a championship on either side of teammate wins by Danny Sullivan (1986) and Al Unser (1987). More recently, CGR accomplished the feat with Jimmy Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi (1997-98) and Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Andretti Green Racing did so with Andretti Green Racing with Tony Kanaan (2004), Dan Wheldon (2005) and Dario Franchitti (2007), and Team Penske did it with Power (2014), Simon Pagenaud (2016) and Josef Newgarden (2017).

Obviously, there are a lot of miles left in this season, but Ericsson is looking more and more like he’s in the driver’s seat for the championship. He would be wise to watch for Dixon in his mirrors, and of course reigning series champion Palou and the Penske duo of Power and Newgarden, former champions each.

Let’s take a look in today’s edition of Fifth Gear:

Dixon Ready to Rumble

Dixon has been historically strong in the second half of seasons, with 30 of his 52 race wins coming after the calendar turned to July.

In 2007, Dixon won three consecutive races in July, part of four wins in the final eight races. He also won three straight July races in 2013, including a doubleheader sweep in Toronto.

Working against the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda is the fact he has won races at only two of the remaining six tracks (Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the World Wide Technology Raceway). But consistency has been his hallmark, so don’t count him out.

Sunday’s win was Dixon’s fourth at Exhibition Place, and he’s in fifth place in the standings. Both Dixon and Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) are 44 points behind Ericsson, but Newgarden occupies the fourth spot in the standings because he has more victories this season than Dixon, with three.

Dixon has long had difficulty putting his career in perspective but tying Andretti and extending his record to 18 consecutive seasons with at least one victory is undeniable. Keep in mind that his first series win came 21 years ago (2001 at Nazareth Speedway).

“Crazy,” he said. “I remember the day winning my first race, the next day was a real struggle, probably had a few too many drinks that night. I don’t think I was even 21 at that point.”

Dixon said it would have been impossible to think then of all the wins that would come.

“Honestly, at the age of 20, man, trust me, I had other things on my mind at that point,” he said. “I was just trying to keep my job.”

No Teammate Fireworks

Chip Ganassi’s organization was the subject of considerable pre-race chatter when Alex Palou denied he would return to the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in 2023, instead supporting McLaren Racing’s claim of a signing. If that was a lingering situation during the race weekend, it didn’t manifest itself into a public problem.

Palou had a misstep, of course, banging the Turn 2 wall Saturday, but he drove a masterful race, climbing from the 22nd starting position to finish sixth. Of note, he battled Ericsson hard for the fifth spot late in the race, but his actions did not appear to cross the line.

“It was a huge day for the team, three cars in the top six,” Palou said.

What happens from here remains to be seen, but it would be unwise to count the Spaniard out of this championship pursuit. He won last year’s race at Portland International Raceway from the pole, and he finished second at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Those are the final two races on the schedule.

As for Ericsson, he drove a smart race Sunday.

“It’s a very fine line there how aggressive you need to be and not do anything stupid,” he said. “I think (Toronto) was a perfect drive for me. I was clever when I had to be and aggressive when I had to be because a couple of guys (ahead) did a bad restart and I had to pick up two positions. That’s going to be really important at the end of the season.

“It’s tough to have the right mental mindset and then pick your battles, but I think we did that really well. P5 is a really, really good points day with some misfortunes of other guys.”

Others on the Move

Colton Herta didn’t win Sunday’s race after starting on the pole with his second NTT P1 Award of the season, but his second-place finish pushed him up two positions in the standings to eighth.

Getting all the way to the series lead seems a lot to ask of Herta, who trails by 97 points, but the driver of Andretti Autosport’s No. 26 Gainbridge Honda won the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, which hosts a return July 30 for the Gallagher Grand Prix, and he was last year’s pole sitter at two of the remaining venues (the Nashville street race and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca).

Felix Rosenqvist also had a strong run in Toronto, finishing on the podium for the first time as the driver of the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. His previous best was fourth in this year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Josef Newgarden had a slow final pit stop as he didn’t get the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet close enough to the fueler for a clean fill, but he still managed to finish 10th and only lost 10 points to Ericsson. Newgarden will be the prohibitive favorite at this weekend’s doubleheader at Iowa Speedway, having won three of the past six series races, including the most recent in 2020.

A Busy Week Ahead

There is no rest for the weary as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES prepares for a spectacular weekend at Iowa Speedway.

Two series races will be featured alongside a standout list of concert performers and an Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to the short track for the first time since the 2020 doubleheader – races won by Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden.

Action begins Friday with an Indy Lights practice at 3:15 p.m. (ET). The NTT INDYCAR SERIES takes the track at 4:30 p.m. (ET) for its only practice of the weekend. There is no charge for admission on that day.

On Saturday, a single qualifying session for both NTT INDYCAR SERIES races will be held at 10:30 a.m. (ET). The 75-lap Indy Lights race follows at 12:15 p.m. (ET) with a Tim McGraw concert thereafter.

The 250-lap Hy-Vee Deals.com 250 presented by Doordash rolls off at 4 p.m. (ET) Saturday on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network with a Florida Georgia Line concert capping the festivities.

On Sunday, Gwen Stefani begins the show with a concert at 1 p.m. (ET) followed by the second NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of the weekend, the 300-lap Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google at 3 p.m. (again on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network). Blake Shelton completes the event with a concert following the race.

The Iowa Speedway doubleheader is part of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ stretch of five races in four weekends. After the trip to Newton, the series returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Gallagher Grand Prix on the road course on Saturday, July 30 and the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville on Sunday, Aug. 7.

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