By Jeff Thornton
Another wonderful weekend of events at the World Wide Technology Raceway. This is the seventh year of the event. Weather was an issue on Saturday with a 27% chance of rain turning into 5 hours of rain at the track. Race officials had to rearrange the day’s schedule with original practice sessions and qualifying being wiped out. After the rain left and the track was cleared several of the practice sessions were completed and the first race of the weekend, which was schedules at 2:35 in the afternoon, was started at 8:50 pm. This was the INDY NXT “OutFront Show down” race 100 lap event with many of the young upcoming INDY drivers participating. Christian Rasmusson won the event for his fourth victory of the season. Louis Foster was second and Hunter McElrea was third.
Qualifying for the NTT IndyCar Series was moved to Sunday morning. Since many of the drivers had limited time to practice and the addition of the “red” Firestone tires it was a challenge for teams to be competitive for the pole position. Scott McLaughlin won the pole with a speed of 182.951 but needed to do an engine swap so he ended up starting 10th due to the 9-spot penalty for doing so. Another driver qualifying 7th was Scott Dixon. Dixon’s team also switched engines and he started the race in 16th position. It was the first race I have covered where the pole winner started 10th.
After qualifying, the USAC Silver Crown series ran the “OutFront 100” race. Clouds and the chance of rain threatened to delay the race, but no rain fell, and the race was completed in the time frame. Davey Hamilton Jr won his first race of the year while Bobby Santos was second and Justin Grant finished third.
The main event of the weekend was the NTT IndyCar Series. Going into the race there were several story lines. The first was whether Alex Palou could win the league points championship. A win would have clinched the title for him. Palou has had an outstanding year with four wins, 2 poles, 11 top five and he finished in the top ten in all 14 previous races. Palou kept his top 10 streak alive finishing in 7th place. The second story line could Josef Newgarden win his 5th straight race at World Wide Technology. Newgarden had also won all of the previous 4 oval races in 2023 and since this was the last oval race of the year, he could have made INDY car history. The final storyline was Scott Dixon could he win in back-to-back races after a victory on the Indianapolis road course at the previous IndyCar Series race.
The race started on time and on the opening race lap, Benjamin Pedersen was bumped, lost control and crashed into the wall in turn one. It took several laps to clean up the debris after the race turned back to green flag racing, Josef Newgarden who started the race in the first position due to McLaughlin taking a 9 spot penalty took control and led all of the first 61 laps until he made his first pit stop. Will Power led the next four until he pitted and then Newgarden returned to the lead. He would lead until lap 102 when he pitted again. New Garden led a total of 98 of the 260 laps.
The second caution of the day came on lap 122 when Takuma Sato brushed the wall ending his day. During the caution all of the teams made pit stops. Pit stops would be the key to Dixon winning. He was able to stretch 65 laps before his first pit stop then made another after the Sato caution and would make a final pit stop on lap on 196. The rest of the field took at least 4 stops and a few 5. The result of this strategy allowed Dixon to almost lap the field. He took his first lead on lap 113 and really never looked back.
As for Josef Newgarden he brushed the wall on lap 211 and did a lot of damage to the car and he never returned. His streak of wins on ovals and at the World Wide Technology Raceway came to an end. At the end of the race only three drivers were on the lead lap. Second place finisher Pato O’Ward was 22.2 seconds behind the winner while David Malukas was 22.7 seconds behind the winner. This was a new IndyCar race record at World Wide Technology Raceway for biggest margin of victory. There were 442 on track passes, this was second since 2017 and 217 on track passes for track position. 80 of the passes were made within the top 10, which ties the World Wide Raceway record.
O’Ward had this to say about Dixon’s victory. “He is one of the best drivers in the league you do not win 6 driving championships without having talent. He executed their race plan and won handily,” said O’Ward. The victory was Dixon’s career 55th putting him behind only AJ Foyt in career victories. Foyt’s has 67 wins. “I was not sure if our strategy was going to work. After we made it to lap 65 on our first pit stop I felt a lot better. We did a good job on stretching the new “Red” Firestone tires better than other teams. This also helped us. I am grateful for each win. It was a good day for our team, and you have to hand them the credit,” added Dixon.
Another great race weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway!