The media espouses the opinion that Scott Dixon owns Mid-Ohio, indeed I did two weeks ago when we discussed Helio’s chances at the Championship. But you don’t realize just how good he is in Lexington until you look at the numbers. In 12 appearances, Dixie has 5 wins and 6 podia. Furthermore, he has finished outside of the top 10 just twice, 22nd last year, and 12th in his first appearance at Mid-Ohio with PWR in 2001. Excluding those two outliers, Dixie has a 50% win rate with a worst finishing position of 7th. Yes, you did the math right, that’s five more top 10 finishes. All together Dixie has an average finishing position of 5.25. These are “greatest of all time” numbers. In all of IndyCar history, Emmo is next best with 3 Mid-O triumphs, Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr., Alex Zanardi, and Teo Fabi each have two wins.
So does Helio Castroneves. Helio took advantage of the dominant 2000 and 2001 Renske (Reynard/Penske) Honda. When the IndyCar Series returned to Mid-O in 2007 Helio added three podiums in the first four events. Since 2011 Helio has finished in the top ten just once (2013). His next highest finish was 15th, achieved in 2015 and ’16. His early success at the track aids in an average finishing position of 9.71.
All of that to say, I fully expect Dixie’s lead in the title race to expand Sunday afternoon. But there is another common theme I love to write about in the Grand PrixView. Team Penske has four number one drivers. And what’s more, Simon Pagenaud (your defending Indy 200 champ), Will Power, and Josef Newgarden really aren’t out of the title race. The darkhorse is Graham Rahal, who has not been out of the top five at his home track in the last three races. So Dixie dominance is not a certainty.
At first glance Scott Dixon has no tail gunner. Tony Kanaan’s best finish at Mid-Ohio is 4th in 2007. But Chip Ganassi Racing has 10 victories at the circuit, including six straight from 2009 to 2014. Charlie Kimball was one of those winning drivers, and Max Chilton is very useful on road courses.
Helio’s driving has been superb this year, though he didn’t drink the milk, his performance at Indy was perhaps his best ever in a damaged car, with the lesser of the two power plants. Scott Dixon has also been driving at a stellar level. Heck, Dixie could have been 500 winner had he not been collected by Jay Howard’s crash, and made headlines of a different variety. The contest is set to continue this weekend, and I expect no letup from Helio. Despite his shaky recent record at the circuit, I fully anticipate Helio being a part of the conversation at the end of the race.
Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 will mark Castroneves’ 340th career IndyCar start, third all time. Television coverage kicks off with live qualifying on NBCSN at 2:00pm Eastern on Saturday. The race goes green at approximately 3:47pm Eastern on CNBC. Yes, it’s another weekend of IndyCars on CNBC, because NBCSN probably has NASCAR or something, and Big NBC has the FINA Swimming World Championships.