Second championship sweeter Luyendyk Jr. celebrates first win Target congratulates its champion Public to vote for Firestone “Tire”-rific move of the race Drivers reap post-race awards
1. Second championship sweeter: Five years and 80 races later, Scott Dixon secured a second IndyCar Series championship. And like the 16-race 2003 season, he battled Helio Castroneves to the end.
Dixon was a 23-year-old rookie then, who made the move – like Castroneves and fellow title challengers Tony Kanaan and Gil de Ferran – full time from CART. Dixon won three races, including the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and posted nine top-five finishes. He won the championship by 19 points.
This year, he won a series record-tying six races and led a record-setting 899 laps in a competitive field awash in veterans from the former Champ Car World Series and rookies looking to make a positive impact in the first year of unified North American open-wheel racing. The margin was 17 points.
“(This) championship means a lot more,” said Dixon, who secured the title Sept. 7 at Chicagoland Speedway with a runner-up finish to Castroneves in the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300. “I think this year is much tougher. I've said in the recent weeks that we didn't really know what we had won then. It was a rookie season for me in the (IndyCar Series) and for the team at that point as well.
“The year on a whole has been amazing, an unforgettable year. I think any year where you win the 500 is going to be like that. But when you top it off with a championship, I still can't believe it. Getting married, winning a 500, winning a championship in one year, not too many people can probably say they've done that.”
Dixon’s dominating run in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car can be traced back to Richmond in June 2007, however, when he rebounded from 12th and 10th-place finishes at Iowa and Texas, respectively, to finish second.
Dixon closed out the 2007 season with seven top-two finishes in the final nine races and carried the momentum into his 2008 championship campaign, recording 12 podium finishes.
“I think after (struggling in) '04 and '05, it makes you cherish things a lot more, definitely race wins just as a whole, but a championship much more,” Dixon said. “To accomplish the disciplines that we have now with short ovals, medium sized tracks, superspeedways, street courses, road courses, that looks like it's going to get stronger as well. I think you'll definitely get a true champion out of that.”
A look at Dixon’s last 26 races, beginning at Richmond in 2007:
Laps Led: 1,089
Races Led: 17
2. Luyendyk Jr. celebrates first win: Shortly after winning the SunRichGourmet.com 100, Arie Luyendyk Jr., received one of the two checkered flags that Indy Racing League starter Bryan Howard waved as he crossed the start-finish line.
The driver's father, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, asked if Howard had signed the keepsake, which the starter gives to each first-time winner. He wanted his son to remember everything about the moment.
"It's been a long-time coming," the elder Luyendyk said. "He’s had a lot of opportunities and chances before where he’s missed out on them. There have been ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ but finally he got the job done, so it’s awesome."
Luyendyk Jr., the only driver to compete in every season of the Firestone Indy Lights history, earned his first career win in the 2008 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway. He passed his teammate and 2008 Firestone Indy Lights champion Raphael Matos on a Lap 67 restart and held off Ana Beatriz for the win.
"It was a great run," Luyendyk Jr. said. "I think in years past, you've seen a lot of impatience here and you've seen a lot of side-by-side racing for the lead. Sorry it couldn't have been a better show, but it definitely benefited me the most. That last restart I knew I needed to get it done. It was a good opportunity. I poked my nose through there. He wasn't able to close the door in time. It's a great feeling to finally get that win.”
The win capped a rebirth in the racing career of the second-generation driver, who finished second to A.J. Foyt IV in the inaugural Firestone Indy Lights season under the Indy Racing League sanction, but had yet to tally his win in more than 60 starts. That changed with his signing with the AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing team at the beginning of the season.
"The season has been great," Luyendyk Jr. said. "I think I exceeded a lot of expectations out there this year, and hopefully people noticed that. I feel a little bit robbed of the top three just because I had the knee injury that really held me back at Infineon and had a couple really poor finishes there.
"But, overall I think a pole position and a win this year and lots of podiums, it's been a great year. Working with Rafa, he's been definitely the most enjoyable teammate to work with. I can't say enough about the crew. The crew has been great. They've been awesome to work with. My engineer has just been a breath of fresh air. "
Another key in the development is maturity. No longer a young driver with a famous name, Luyendyk Jr., now 26, has committed to his craft in hopes of following his father's path in the IndyCar Series.
"I think a lot of letting go of the frustration of not winning was the biggest thing," Luyendyk said. "Everyone always saying, 'When are you going to win your first race? When are you going to win your first race?' Then when you're in the car, you're overly aggressive. Instead of thinking about the big picture, you're thinking about getting ahead of the car in front of you and you'll do anything for it. I think that patience really paid off today. It's been like that all year basically.
"I can't take all the credit. It's just I think knowing that I'm 26 years old and I want to be an IndyCar driver and I need to make it happen. I need to make changes to my style."
3. Target congratulates its champion: Target had plans to congratulate IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon with a series of full-page, four-color ads in several newspapers Sept. 8.
Ads were scheduled to run today in USA Today, Minneapolis Star and Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Indianapolis Star, Charlotte Observer, Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune Review. In addition, the company planned ads on ESPN.com, Yahoo Sports and MSN Sports.
4. Public to vote for Firestone “Tire”-rific move of the race: Fans will have the ultimate say in who receives a $10,000 race bonus from Firestone. After each IndyCar Series race, Firestone executives pick three “Tire”-rific Moves of the Race, on-track moves where the drivers had to rely on their Firestone Firehawk tires. Fans can vote for the winner at www.indycar.com.
Justin Wilson won the fans’ vote from the race at Belle Isle and was awarded $10,000.
From the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300, fans can choose from:
Helio Castroneves from charging from last to first. Dan Wheldon for leaning on his Firehawks for three consecutive laps of three-wide racing. Mario Moraes for moving from 27th to run as high as sixth.
In past seasons, Firestone has awarded the bonus to the driver who led the lap that corresponded to the total number of races in IndyCar Series history.
5. Drivers reap post-race awards: Helio Castroneves reaped the benefits from winning the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300. Castroneves was presented an IndyCar Series timepiece from Ritmo Mundo, the official timepiece of the IndyCar Series. Ritmo Mundo presents a timepiece to the winner of each IndyCar Series event in 2008. Castroneves also collected the $2,000 Lincoln Welders Hard Charger Award for being the race leader who started furthest back and $1,000 from Bosch.
Scott Dixon won $5,000 for the DirecTV Crystal Clear Moment of the Race, Ryan Briscoe won the $10,000 PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award, and Will Power won the $2,000 XTrac Award.
The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with a non-points paying race Oct. 26 at Surfers Paradise, Australia. The Nikon Indy 300 will be telecast live in High Definition at 10:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 25 by ESPN Classic and will re-air at 11 p.m. Oct. 26 on ESPN2. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season has concluded.