ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – A few years ago, Jimmie Johnson was told on the NASCAR side of things that he had a golden horseshoe stuffed inside of an orifice of his body. We won’t go into any more details. The seven-time Cup Series champion did catch some breaks a time or two, which landed him that comment. But, what star athlete doesn’t?
Well, on the IndyCar side, Scott Dixon seems to catch them a lot too. I chalk it up as skill to avoid problems. Both Chip Ganassi Racing cars caught lucky breaks at the end of the first two rounds of qualifying on Saturday. So much so, Dixon equated it to Christmas for them.
Initially, Dixon didn’t make it out of the first round of qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete (12:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network). He qualified 13th on Saturday afternoon. See, Dixon made a rare mistake on his second to last lap when he spun on the 1.8-mile street circuit bringing out a local yellow.
He’d continue on but with worn tires and couldn’t get his way past Jack Harvey to get into the second round. He was just 0.6825-seconds off after a rare mistake. But, while on pit lane to wait for the second round to start, race control deemed instead that Takuma Sato caused a local yellow and actually penalized him for it. As a result, he lost his two fastest laps which in turn put Dixon back in.
Sato and his team were confused on how Dixon was able to continue on but they weren’t. They acknowledged it’s pretty cut and dry in the rule book and they accept their penalty. But, what they don’t understand is why Dixon wasn’t penalized for an exact same infraction. Both spun, only one was penalized.
Dixon capitalized and will start fourth in his No. 9 Honda. While it’s not where he’d like to be, he’s still five rows further up than where he could have been. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is 0-for-14 on the streets of St. Pete and would like to earn his first trip to victory lane in the annual season opener. He finished sixth last year and was third in 2017. He also has three runner-ups (2006, 2007, 2012) but no wins. On Friday, Dixon spoke on how he had a podium car again.
“Yeah, that was like Christmas, I guess,” said Dixon after his top five starting spot. “I don’t know. It was scrappy. I think we changed front springs three times, front rear toes, the front wing. It was a bit of a mess. We struggled to get the balance a little bit. Q1 I think we were knocked out until the infraction with Sato and had a spin in Q1, so it was almost like first day back at school and was just a mess.
“But all in all, I think the car is pretty strong. It’s just not real nice to try and piece together. So I think over the longer run, it seems pretty suitable. Guys in Q1 I think got a little bit lucky with some fresher tires later on with the crash that happened in that one, as well.
“But we made the most of it. We could have been 14th, but we’re starting fourth. Good spot. Great to have Felix here. He did a hell of a job, and hopefully we can have a podium finish for both the 9 and the 10.”
His teammate Rosenqvist outpaced him though. Rosenqvist, will roll off third in his No. 10 Honda, one spot in front of Dixon. That’s saying something. The Swedish rookie had never taken part of an Indy Car qualifying round before. Here he is starting in front of his five-time champion teammate.
But, if not for Colton Herta being penalized at the end of the second round, Rosenqvist would be starting seventh. Instead, Herta, who impeded Charlie Kimball on his hot lap, lost his top two times which relegated Rosenqvist up front seventh to sixth and into the Firestone Fast Six. He made the most of it.
“Well, I think that’s dreaming a bit much at the moment,” Rosenqvist said on if he’s a favorite on Sunday. “I think already, like Scott (Dixon) said, it was a bit of a Christmas Day for us today.
“Group 1 was just really messy. I didn’t really have a lap and I was just worried I wouldn’t go through. Luckily just made it through that one, and then actually got knocked out, out of the second group. I think (Takuma) Sato or someone got knocked down, and there was some kind of penalty, and luckily we came into the Firestone Six.
“Then I actually pulled together a really good lap, probably the best lap I done all weekend, so it felt like we performed when we needed to. Yeah, fantastic to be top 3 already and be next to Scott on the grid. Like Scott said, I think we have some things to work on, but the potential of the car seems really good. Yeah, just really good fun being up here. I don’t know about the race, it’s just about forgetting everything we’ve done so far this weekend and just put that in the history books and aim for the race, see what we can do there.”