MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) — By the time Scott Dixon turned his season around, it was too late to beat teammate Alex Palou for the IndyCar championship.
But it was good enough to affirm Dixon’s legacy as the greatest driver of his generation.
The six-time IndyCar champion won the season finale Sunday at Laguna Seca — his first win at the permanent California road course, 56th of his career and third in the final four races of the season. His turnaround last month ensured that Dixon’s streak of 19 consecutive seasons with at least one win remaining intact.
“It’s always nice to finish the year like that,” said Dixon.
Palou became the first driver in nearly 20 years to clinch the IndyCar title before the season finale with his victory last weekend in Portland. Palou won his second title in three years with last week’s win, his fifth of the season. Palou’s title is the 15th in IndyCar for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Dixon had been mathematically eligible to challenge Palou for the title until the Portland victory. He was still guaranteed to finish second in the standings no matter what happened in Sunday’s finale.
“It’s just a shame that Palou decided to lead the championship by too many points, and it became a bit boring on the championship side,” Dixon said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a situation where you come into the last race and you can’t fight really much for anything in the championship. We were locked into second. Alex was locked obviously for the championship, which was quite bizarre.
“Everybody’s stress level was a lot lower. You could all just kind of fight for the win. … Everybody was just going for a win because everybody was trying a bit of everything throughout the day.”
Dixon’s win moved him within 11 of AJ Foyt’s all-time record.
Scott McLaughlin, like Dixon from New Zealand, finished second for Team Penske and was followed by Palou, who scored 10 podiums in 17 races this season.
Will Power of Team Penske finished fourth and ended his run as IndyCar champion by snapping a 16-year streak of winning at least one race. Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing tied his career-best finish of fifth and was followed by Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan.
Alexander Rossi of Arrow McLaren was seventh and followed by Marcus Armstrong, who won rookie of the year honors for Ganassi. Pato O’Ward of McLaren was ninth and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Ed Carpenter Racing finished 10th.
The win for Dixon was the first of his career at Laguna Seca and he overcame an early-race penalty for avoidable contact to cycle into the win in a sloppy race slowed by eight cautions for 35 laps. The lengthy yellows took such a toll on the race that the pace car ran out of gas and needed to be refueled with more than 30 laps remaining.
“It’s a credit to the team, they’ve been executing like that all season,” Dixon said. “But we won. That’s all that matters. We won.”
Ganassi became the first team owner to win the championship and top rookie honors in the same season. Armstrong won the rookie title despite skipping the five oval races on the schedule. He signed an extension to return to the team next year and will run the full schedule, including ovals.
“To be first and second in the points, and then rookie of the year for Marcus Armstrong, I mean, Alex, Dixon, what a season for the whole team,” Ganassi said.
Colton Herta finished 23rd and was spun off course by Helio Castroneves in a car custom painted to resemble the one Herta’s father, Bryan, drove to the 1998 win at Laguna Seca. The spin cemented a winless season for the younger Herta, who started the year with a contract extension from Andretti Global that many believe made the 23-year-old the highest-paid driver in IndyCar.
Herta said he’d give himself a “D-minus” grade on his season and said even if he’d won Sunday’s finale it wouldn’t be enough to salvage a disastrous year.
Chevrolet, which won the Indianapolis 500 with Josef Newgarden, clinched the manufacturer championship. Honda won the driver championship with Palou and Ganassi.