Dixon vs. Franchitti — the silent rivalry

IndyCar commentary — By on July 6, 2011 5:30 pm
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This article was originally posted to INDYCAR Nation on June 28th, 2011. To view More Front Wing’s exclusive INDYCAR Nation content as soon as it’s released, sign up for INDYCAR Nation today at indycarnation.indycar.com.

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Few would question that Scott Dixon is among the most talented racers competing on this continent. He’s a two-time INDYCAR champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner. He has more victories to his name under IRL sanction than any other driver.

However, there is one driver who Dixon has yet to properly defeat. In the man who is currently his teammate, he has surely met the greatest nemesis of his career.

In the rain-shortened 2007 Indianapolis 500, Dixon finished second — to Dario Franchitti.

In the 2007 championship, Dixon finished second — to Dario Franchitti, and in heartbreaking style as he ran out of fuel while leading the final lap of the final race.

In 2008, Dixon won both the 500 and the championship — but those victories didn’t include besting Franchitti, who was trying his hand at NASCAR at the time.

Franchitti returned in 2009 to join Dixon at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The 2009 championship battle came down to the season’s final event. After winding up on the wrong fuel strategy, Dixon finished second in the title run — to Dario Franchitti.

And in 2010, Dixon finished third in points to the two drivers who stole the spotlight all season long, Will Power — and the champion for the third time in four years, Dario Franchitti.

In most of these situations, luck played a significant role. But for the past two years in a row, challenges early in the season have been determining factors in Dixon’s final result in the championship. In 2009, crashes at St. Petersburg with Hideki Mutoh and at Long Beach with EJ Viso left Dixon far behind. It took a monumental effort with five wins, a pole and six races of leading the most laps to find himself in the points lead going into the finale, but the early deficit ultimately cost him the title. In 2010, damage from the first-lap multi-car incident in Brazil and an uncharacteristic mistake that put him into the tires at St. Pete set him back from the start once again, and he never fully recovered.

History is repeating itself this year, and Dixon’s situation looks even more dire. He took damage in the melee of the opening lap at St. Pete and went on to finish 16th. He finished 18th at Long Beach after being involved in the incident that saw Helio Castroneves get into Will Power late in the race. And a spin at Saõ Paulo left him with a 12th place finish. He’s been on the podium four times in 2011 — three seconds and a third — but he has yet to secure a win. Dixon hasn’t been this deep into the season without a victory since 2007.

Meanwhile, the driver with three wins to his credit thus far and the current points leader is — Dario Franchitti.

These sorts of statistics play serious head games with a race car driver. This will never be admitted in media interviews or public appearances or even when the two drivers are face to face. But rest assured, Dixon is well-aware that Franchitti is the only driver he’s raced against thus far in his career who has consistently and demonstrably had better results. No driver likes to think he’s number two. No driver can accept constant defeat.

But on the subject of this silent rivalry, two questions remain. For one, are we currently watching Dixon at his prime as he is being overshadowed by his more senior teammate, or does he have even greater success yet to come? And if he does somehow manage to hone his skill even more, will it happen in time for him to defeat Franchitti soundly on the racetrack, or will he come into his own after Franchitti’s retirement and therefore always leave the question open of whether Dario was the better driver?

Only time will tell. But one thing is certain: Dixon will do everything in his power to ensure that history remembers him being the one on top.

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