Dixon slams brakes on youth movement with Indy 500 pole

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Scott Dixon, front left, of New Zealand celebrates after winning the pole during qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 auto race as his wife Emma Davies-Dixon, right, watches at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon saw his team tinkering with his race car but asked no questions. When his three teammates made their Indianapolis 500 qualifying attempts, he didn't want to hear their feedback.

The six-time IndyCar champion and greatest driver of his generation wanted to be left alone to prepare for his own gutsy run around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two of IndyCar's budding young stars sat atop the leaderboard in Sunday qualifying and “The Iceman” was determined to push them aside.

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Dixon did just that and slammed the brakes on IndyCar's current youth movement by winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 pole by a mere 0.03 seconds, or roughly six feet over the 10-mile qualifying run.

“It was pretty hairy, glad it’s over. It was definitely pretty tense,” Dixon said. “I could see the mechanics working on the car as we rolled through, adjusting the wings. I asked them not to tell me. It’s definitely a roller coaster of emotions for everybody and I’m actually really relieved that that’s all over.”

Dixon was the final driver on the track in the Fast Nine portion of qualifying that sets the first three rows for next Sunday's race. Chip Ganassi Racing has been consistently strong all week at Indy and all four of its cars were part of the Fast Nine competing for the pole.

The Ganassi group liked its chances and Dixon was comfortable going out last. But then Rinus VeeKay and Ed Carpenter, the only two Chevrolet drivers competing against seven Honda teams in the Fast Nine, posted a pair of monster laps and VeeKay landed a spot on the front row.

Next came Colton Herta, the 21-year-old American who just last week earned a contract extension at Andretti Autosport. Herta held it wide open to bump VeeKay, the 20-year-old Dutchman who last week scored his first career IndyCar win, from the pole.

Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner who also has three runner-up finishes that includes last year's race, suddenly wished it wasn't up to him to beat the kids.

“I’d prefer going last, for sure. But then I didn’t after I saw the ECR and Herta runs. I was definitely pretty nervous,” Dixon said. "You’re just trying to stay as calm as possible. For me, I think probably for all of us, the best situation for us is actually just being in the car and doing what we really enjoy, what we love.

“The nerves are all about just that competition level is just through the roof right now.”

Dixon's average four-lap speed of 231.685 mph knocked Herta to second after Herta's 231.665 put him on top of the leaderboard for roughly 10 minutes. VeeKay at 231.511 earned the final spot on the front row.

Dixon turns 41 in July — the combined age of the two drivers starting next to him in the Indy 500.

“It’s a whole new generation,” VeeKay said.

Herta, who is rapidly becoming a star in the series, didn't complain about being bumped by Dixon.

“I just can’t wait for next Sunday, we’ve got a good race car,” Herta said. “Second place is not too bad of a place to start.”

Honda rolled into the Fast Nine qualifying session with seven drivers compared to two for rival Chevrolet. But the Chevy power seems just fine as VeeKay and team owner Carpenter qualified third and fourth and sat atop the leaderboard until Herta and Dixon made the final two runs of the day.

Lining up next to Carpenter on the second row will be Tony Kanaan, at 46 the oldest driver in the field, and Alex Palou. Kanaan and Palou are Dixon's teammates at Ganassi, as is Marcus Ericsson, who qualified ninth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay for Andretti was seventh and Helio Castroneves eighth for Meyer Shank Racing.

“If I was a fan, I’d be really excited with that Fast Nine qualifying. Guys just kept going faster every single run,” said Herta, who then muttered a curse word when he learned his starting position earned him an 8 a.m. Monday photo shoot for the front-row qualifiers.

The first three rows account for six Indy 500 wins and eight series championships among four drivers — proving veteran experience still matters at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s very weird that the guy starting ahead of me was wearing diapers when I started my first Indy 500,” Kanaan said of VeeKay, who becomes the youngest front-row starter in 105 runnings of the race.

In a 75-minute shootout for the final three spots in the field held right before the Fast Nine session, Sage Karam, Will Power and Simona de Silvestro made the race. Charlie Kimball and R.C. Enerson were knocked from the 33-car field.


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