Scott Dixon is such a smooth driver that it leaves people asking if he’s actually human—but a difficult weekend at Mid-Ohio showed that even the mighty can stumble. He’s retained the IndyCar championship since the first race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway, but this weekend has closed the wide gap he’d built. Now, Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden is legitimately within fighting distance.
Saturday’s race—the first of the doubleheader weekend—was a fairly straightforward one. Will Power qualified on pole position and led his way to the win. It was a much similar day for everyone else in that many drivers started near where they finished—with the exception of Scott Dixon. Dixon qualified 17th and 10th, running a fairly mediocre race. 20 points were shaved off his points total with Newgarden finishing second, but it would have been just fine had it been a one-off for Dixon.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Sunday’s race was a wild one. It poured rain at Mid-Ohio in the morning, and while the track had dried, the grass and gravel remained wet. Anyone who dipped a wheel off the track would lose it and take a spin through the grass—something made obvious right from the start. Colton Herta and Santino Ferrucci qualified side-by-side on the front row, with the latter driver touching the grass and going for a spin. Ferrucci returned to the track and clipped two other drivers, ending their day. Ferrucci was able to continue racing.
Rookie Dalton Kellett had the same problem, beaching himself in the gravel in the process. Marco Andretti went through a long ride through the grass, able to return to the track. And so did Dixon.
Dixon had qualified third and looked set to overtake both Ferrucci and Herta on the restart, but it wasn’t to be. The driver was left battling Ryan Hunter-Reay for fourth place. While the two drivers made slight contact, they were able to continue racing.
And then Dixon dropped a wheel off the track. He spun, managing to avoid making contact with any other drivers in the process. The entire grid passed him by as he attempted to right himself, and Dixon slowed even further after he drove into a mud patch. The New Zealander was able to continue racing, but he was forced to do so from the very rear of the grid.
It was a terrible mistake for a championship leader to make, especially as his lead has now shrunk even further. Yes, Dixon came home in 10th, but with Newgarden finishing higher, the N0. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing driver can’t afford to make these mistakes. He entered the weekend with a 96 point lead over Newgarden. He leaves with that gap shrunk down to a mere 71 points. With a race win worth 50 points, it’s still feasible that Newgarden could with this.
“I got a little aggressive, hit the overtake, and got a little too much power, spun the tires and spun the car. It was such a stupid rookie mistake. It should have been an easy points day,” Dixon said after the race.
“It’d be nice to go to St. Pete without having to worry about [the championship],” he added, pointing out that two wins at the upcoming doubleheader could take care of things.
It’s hard to imagine Dixon struggling like this during the rest of the season, but as this season has shown, anything is possible. Who knows what first-lap chaos the Harvest Grands Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will bring? Dixon still has a grasp on the Astor Cup this season, but with a few more races like the Mid-Ohio doubleheader, Newgarden may just be able to pry it from his hands.
Another big talking point of the race was Colton Herta’s win from pole position. With Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay taking home second and third, it was the first Andretti podium sweep in 15 years.