Scott Dixon overcame the mayhem at the NTT IndyCar Series’ season finale to win his third race of the year at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at the WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca on Sunday (Sept. 10). In a race that featured eight yellow flags, Dixon’s team got him up front after once again playing the fuel strategy game to perfection, leaping Romain Grosjean and Pato O’Ward who pitted under the race’s eighth caution period.
“Yeah, definitely credit to this team,” Dixon said. “I think they have been executing like that all year. It’s been a special group to be a part of. Obviously celebrating Alex’s second championship which is big too. I can’t thank this PNC Bank group enough. Honda obviously got us better mileage.
“We had a bit of an issue this morning. Got a grid penalty, had to lose six spots, and then, I got caught up in some mayhem at the start.”
Early in the race, Dixon was penalized for making contact with Rinus VeeKay during a lap one accident that took out Graham Rahal and caused further damage to Josef Newgarden and rookie Juri Vips. Outraged at the race control decision, Dixon pitted which put him behind. However, much like at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway, Dixon’s strategist Mike Hull brought the car back down to top off before the race resumed. As the race cycled out, the call eventually leaped the six-time champion around everyone else to lead on the final restart.
“I definitely didn’t agree with the call, but I haven’t seen all of it yet,” Dixon said. “But I had nowhere to go, so [I’m] not sure what [race control] expects me to do. We won, that’s all that matters. We won.”
Palou dominated early, but his great year of luck and fortune finally ran out when David Malukas spun and was stuck in the gravel pits. The untimely yellow came before he pitted, which cycled him behind those who came in earlier. He ended up playing catch up the rest of the way. But the Spaniard still walked away with the Astor Cup for winning the championship.
“It has been an amazing year, five wins, I don’t know, ten podiums,” Palou said during his official championship presentation. “And today was going to be a really good race as well. The yellows didn’t help us, but still fun race. Everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing did an awesome job giving us the cars we needed. Super happy to get our second championship together.”
The rest of the top five behind Palou was Will Power in fourth, who was unable to defend his 2022 title, and Callum Illot, who tied his best finish of his career, matching a fifth earlier in the year at St. Petersburg.
Since the title had been decided a week ago at Portland, the race’s biggest story was the new asphalt surface at Laguna Seca which brought great speeds, but bit drivers when they pushed too far out of the groove. This resulted in inconsistent practice sessions throughout the weekend that didn’t provide enough time for teams to know how tires and setups would play out. In the race, the surface was a factor in the eight cautions as drivers made costly errors.
Multiple race strategies were tried and teams leaned heavily to the notion more yellows would fall in making their calls. This worked in Dixon’s favor who was able to conserve enough fuel to make it to the end when he pitted for the final time with 28 laps to go.
Unfortunately, the racing wasn’t the focus of the event, as race control became a discussion topic with multiple penalties handed out for unavoidable contact – like Dixon – and pitting after a repositioning penalty, which is a very uncommon one to say the least.
There was little flow to the race, with so many yellows and penalties, until the final stint, which was when Dixon got up front and stretched the lead to the finish.
McLaughlin’s runner-up elevated him to third in the championship, finishing as the highest Team Penske driver in the championship.
“It was a lot of stuff I couldn’t avoid. It was crazy,” McLaughlin said. “But [I’m] real proud of these Xpel Chevy boys. That was peak IndyCar right there. You think your day’s done, get a drive through and then come back. But I had a mega restart, on the second last restart, I passed six and seven cars to get behind Dixon there, super proud. And third in the championship. That’s an absolute bonus.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Armstrong won rookie of the year, remarkably after only a schedule of street and road courses. He will return full-time to the No. 11 car next year.
Other drivers who found results to their dismay would include Newgarden, Rahal, and in his final race as a full-time competitor, Helio Castroneves. For most of the season, Newgarden was chasing Palou for the championship lead, and after his sweep at the Iowa Speedway doubleheader, seemed to have the momentum on his side. But a string of poor results in three of the last four races dropped him from second to fifth in the championship.
Rahal on the other hand concluded a frustrating season, which included not qualifying for the Indy 500 and a poor result at Portland after starting from the pole. He didn’t even make it to lap two before being done for the day.
Castroneves spun on lap 26 and did so again a few turns later after making contact with Benjamin Pedersen. When he returned to the track again, he did so in front of leader Palou, who quickly avoided the Brazilian. He’d finish 13th.
With the conclusion to the 2023 IndyCar season, the series will return sometime in March with their kickoff race at the Honda St. Petersburg Grand Prix.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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