SONOMA, California – This is the time of season when Scott Dixon arrives at Sonoma Raceway in the thick of the battle for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship. In the past, he has arrived battling such drivers as Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud for the prestigious series championship.
But this year’s trip to the 12-turn, 2.385-mile permanent road course is different for the three-time series champion at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. Although he is the last of the six drivers mathematically eligible for the 2014 title, the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner realizes he has virtually no shot at this year’s title heading into Sunday’s Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
The defending IndyCar champion is 130 points behind the leader Team Penske’s Will Power but with only 150 points left Dixon realizes it’s not going to happen.
It’s been Dixon’s worst season in a decade and for all intents and purposes he is ready to move on to next season.
“From memory, I’ve only had two years that have been worse than this year, that was ’04, ’05,” Dixon recalled on Saturday during a break in practice for Sunday’s race. “We knew we had a deficiency with the engine manufacturer in those years.
“Personally I think it’s one of the worst years we’ve ever had, which has been very frustrating for a team like us. Four competitive cars, to have only one race win so far this year have been not so great.”
When asked to analyze what went wrong in 2014, Dixon believes it’s been a matter of circumstance.
“I think we come up a little short,” he said. “T.K. (Tony Kanaan) was doing a fantastic job in Pocono. I think we were looking good for a 1-2 finish at Iowa, as well. That didn’t come around.
“It’s been a tough year. To think we’re only 38 points out of third place. I think just about every year since 2006 we’ve gone into the last race with a fighting chance of winning the championship, so this year, unless something comes out and wipes out the 12 car (Power), it’s going to be pretty tough.
“We’ll try to do our best, try to end on a positive note, carry momentum into 2015.”
Despite the poor season by Dixon’s standards, Sonoma Raceway has always been one of his favorites. He has one win, two podium and four top-five finishes in nine starts.
“It’s a fun place,” he said. “It’s a place we obviously test a lot, too. I think we come twice a year, sort of normally February, March, then just recently as well. It’s a tricky track, very low grip, especially in the low-speed corners like 11 and seven.
“The track has changed a little bit over the years, but generally the racing has always been fantastic here.
“Last year was a great year for us. We locked out the front row with Dario on the pole and we were second, leading the race. Obviously had that pit stop issue we had last year. This weekend seems to be going well. The car was pretty fast in practice one.
“I think the biggest difference this year is it being a two-day event. It’s all very compressed.”
Although he isn’t going to win the championship this season, he has plenty of reason to remain motivated over the final two races of 2014.
“I think just the general fact of hating to lose,” Dixon said. “We’ve been losing. That’s definitely kept my motivation pretty high.
“It’s just been one of those strange years where it can go your way, it just hasn’t. Whether it’s been a situation in a race with strategy. Mid-Ohio was a nice highlight for us, definitely a nice turnaround in the way we had some luck that pushed us into the situation to try to go for a race win.
“Whether it’s been in a practice session and we’ve tried one thing, it’s been the wrong way. Instead of getting one or two positive changes for a session, you just get into a roll of bad ones.”
So here is Dixon, at one of his favorite tracks with the reality setting in that he is here to win the race rather battle it out for the championship. Although that’s an odd place for him to be, he plans on making the most of it.
“It’s kind of nice in some ways because there’s not a whole amount of pressure on you,” Dixon said. “Last year was a totally different situation where we were fighting back. Even since 2006, I think we’ve been in that situation at this race, to be fighting for the championship.
“It’s a little odd. But I think we just set our sights a little different. Right now it’s third place in the championship, it’s definitely within our grasps, with 150 plus more points left on the table, we’re only 38 out.
“It’s a different situation. I think the most important thing for us is to end on a positive note.”
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. ET.