MADISON, Ill. (AP) — Scott Dixon has done very little wrong the past five weeks, being a model of consistency in the midst of an IndyCar championship chase he hopes will deliver him a fifth title in the open-wheel series.
Yet his lead has been trimmed by more than half.
Alexander Rossi took another nibble out of it Saturday night, when he managed to coax about six extra laps out of his final fuel stop at Gateway Motorsports Park. Rossi’s strategy to make one fewer stop than the leaders paid off with a second-place finish behind Will Power — and one spot ahead of Dixon, whose lead dwindled to 26 points with two races left in the season.
“It’s always tough when it comes down to the wire,” said Dixon, who had a fifth straight top-five finish, “but I think you have that situation throughout the season. Everybody at this level, you do everything you can to try and get one race win. It’s no different week in, week out.”
Dixon did precisely that during the middle of the season, winning three times to build what looked like an insurmountable points lead. But it’s been Rossi on the tear down the stretch, his back-to-back wins at Mid-Ohio and Pocono and runner-up run at Gateway putting the pressure on.
Now, the question is whether there’s enough time to finish the job.
The final two races are road courses, beginning next week with IndyCar’s return to Portland, Oregon, after a decade-long absence and culminating in the finale at Sonoma, where double points are on the line.
“The goal right now is just to hopefully get within 20 points going into Sonoma, and then it can really be about who beats the other person-type-of-thing,” Rossi said. “That’s where our focus is, and we have found some road course performance definitely in the second half of this year, so got two road courses coming up. Portland is a very unknown challenge for us all, so it’ll be interesting.”
Rossi’s championship rally nearly came to a spectacular halt Saturday night, when he was side by side with Power going through Turn 2. His Andretti Autosport ride got wildly loose — it looked like a dirt late model sliding through the corner — but Rossi somehow managed to keep it off the wall.
Asked what was going through his mind, he replied: “A lot of bad words.”
“It was one of those ones where I had pretty much given up, and it just came back really probably by the grace of God,” he said, “because I was on the brakes and ready to hit the wall, so it just kind of corrected itself, and that was a pretty big blessing I got there.”
Power went on to win the race, his first with team owner Roger Penske on the radio calling his strategy, and managed to keep his own faint championship hopes alive.
While Rossi was trying to save every last drop of fuel, and Dixon was stuck in no-man’s land on his own strategy, Power was able to go full-throttle down the stretch. That that allowed him to overcome Rossi and keep Dixon at bay, and trim his championship deficit to 68 points.
It’s a tall order but hardly out of the question.
“If they’re at the front, yes, I mean, we have to take risks. We have to make things happen,” he said. “Kind of like (Saturday night), we just said: ‘Let’s go. Let’s run hard. We’ve got to beat these guys. We can’t finish behind anymore.’ So I’m going to be aggressive with them racing-wise.
“If there’s a half gap there, I’m going to go for it,” he added. “You have to. They know it.”
Power has reason to believe he still has a chance.
He was in a similar deficit when the series headed to Indianapolis in May, first for the Grand Prix and then for the Indy 500, where there were double points on the line — similar to the stakes for the final two races. And when he swept to victory in the road race, and made his big oval breakthrough in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Power left town with a lead in the standings.
“We can absolutely do it. It’s mathematically possible,” he said. “Absolutely.”