GRR

Indycar and NASCAR crossover | 4 talking points

13th August 2023
Damien Smith

Excitement and drama came thick and fast – both on and off the track – as IndyCar and NASCAR shared the bill in a US racing ‘crossover’ on the Indianapolis road course. There was plenty to chew over from both categories in one of the highlight weekends of the American season.

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1. Dixon keeps his run going at Indy

It’s an IndyCar cliché, but only because it’s true: you can never rule out Scott Dixon. The 43-year-old six-time champion only started the IndyCar race from 15th on Saturday, then somehow pulled a famous spin-and-win result from the Chip Ganassi Racing hat thanks to an inspired alternative tyre strategy. That magic trick means the Kiwi stretches his incredible record of winning for a 19th consecutive season in what was his 319th IndyCar start. This was also Dixon’s 54th IndyCar victory, pulling him two clear of Mario Andretti’s tally, although he’s still 13 short of AJ Foyt’s record of 67. Given his age, it seems unlikely he’ll match ‘Super Tex’ – but this is Dixon we’re talking about, so you can never rule it out.

Ganassi’s favourite son looked out of luck on the opening lap when he found himself caught up in a pile-up at Turn 7. His team-mate and championship leader Alex Palou tagged another Ganassi car, that of Marcus Armstrong, and in the concertina effect Romain Grosjean spun Dixon around. Crucially for Palou, his main title rival Josef Newgarden – who started back in 25th after an engine change penalty – ran up and over Armstrong’s prone car, the Penske entry ending up stuck over its back. Indy 500 winner Newgarden required a new nose for his Dallara and soldiered on to finish 25th, two laps down.

The incident triggered a long safety car interruption and that proved crucial to Dixon’s recovery. Having pitted under yellows, he then eked out his fuel and tyres to make only two more scheduled stops after racing resumed on lap eight, while his frontrunning rivals made three over the course of the rest of the 85 laps that all ran under green. That meant when they stopped for a final time, Dixon had cycled through to the front of the field – and from that position this IndyCar master rarely lets it slip.

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2. Tough luck for Rahal

Dixon’s mugging of the field was particularly harsh on Graham Rahal, who had started from pole position and was chasing what would have been his first victory in six years. The 34-year-old son of Bobby Rahal had relished his return to the front, especially in the wake of his heartbreak at Indianapolis just three months ago when he failed to make the cut to start the Indy 500. After that humiliation, here he was dominating on the road course.

Rahal led 36 of the 85 laps, but it would have been much more without Dixon’s alternative strategy pushing him up the order. As the Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver said afterwards, he and his team executed a fine race and did nothing wrong – but were undone by Dixon and Ganassi pulling their masterstroke. After Rahal’s final stop, he was 6.9 seconds down on Dixon and the chase was on for what turned into a thrilling finale. The #15 Dallara-Honda closed in, but Dixon was just able to keep out of reach, leaving Rahal to come up short by just half a second at the chequer.

Rahal admitted it stung, but added with reverence: “We’re going up against the best of all time, by far. [Winning across] nineteen seasons? Ridiculous.”

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3. Palou in the eye of a storm

Beyond the stunning finish and Dixon’s remarkable victory, the biggest talking point of the weekend centred around an ugly contractual spat for Palou’s services in 2024. This time last year, the Spaniard was trying to leave Ganassi to join Arrow McLaren. Now it seems he wants to stay just where he is, despite McLaren claiming it has a contract for him to switch sides. What a turnaround.

The row led Chip Ganassi to issue a stinging statement aimed directly at Zak Brown. “I grew up respecting the McLaren team and their success,” he said. “The new management does not get my same respect. Alex Palou has been a part of our team and under contract since the 2021 season. It is the interference of that contract from McLaren that began this process and ironically, they are now playing the victim. Simply stated, the position of McLaren IndyCar regarding our driver is inaccurate and wrong; he remains under contract with CGR.”

For his part, Brown was also upset. “I’m extremely disappointed that Alex Palou does not intend to honour his contractual obligations to race with us in IndyCar in 2024 and beyond,” he said in a statement. “That’s all I have to say on the topic for the time being.”

Palou has tested for McLaren in F1 and rumours have persisted that he is eyeing a future in grand prix racing – even if there is no room at the Woking team while Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri remain incumbent. Might Palou find a berth elsewhere without McLaren’s assistance? Not right now, it seems – especially as his Monaco-based management company expressed dismay at the mess and has severed its ties with him. More likely, the 26-year-old will remain in IndyCar in one of the best seats on the grid. 

At Indianapolis, Palou endured a messy race after his lap-one clip of Armstrong and later also clashed with the impressive Devlin DeFrancesco. But he still finished seventh and with Newgarden down in 25th, now holds a commanding 101-point lead with three rounds to go to capture his second title in three years. No wonder it seems he wants to stay put.

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4. Kobayashi and Button in NASCAR

In the NASCAR Cup race at Indy on Sunday, Toyota World Endurance Championship racer and team principal Kamui Kobayashi had a ball as he made his series debut, while 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button also returned for his third appearance in America’s premier stock car division.

Kobayashi, driving for 23XI, finished 33rd after starting 28th following two spins at Turn 1 caused by contact, first with Andy Lally and then with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Button was also in the wars, picking up a penalty for pit lane speeding in his Rick Ware Racing Ford and also made contact with Stenhouse Jr before finishing 28th.

Australian V8 Supercar king Shane van Gisbergen was also guesting, but couldn’t repeat his astonishing debut victory in Chicago. Still, the Kiwi finished a respectable 10th on the Indy road course and continues to eye a potential future in NASCAR.

The race was won by Michael McDowell, whose victory confirmed his place in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. He passed pole position winner Daniel Suárez at a restart on lap six and led all the way, holding off Chase Elliott at the flag.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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