INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Scott Dixon keeps finding ways to put the milestones in perspective.
Sure, he knows a sweep of the Harvest GP doubleheader in Indianapolis would give him six wins this season, matching a career high. He's also aware he needs two wins to tie Mario Andretti for second in IndyCar history with 52. And if he wins a sixth IndyCar season title, he knows he'd be just one behind A.J Foyt's record.
But Dixon didn't get to the verge of making history by making a big deal out of historic moments and he's certainly not going to start now.
“I feel very lucky and privileged to do what I do," Dixon said. “I really enjoy the people that I work with. They as a whole really drive me, their will to win. I think the whole kind of mindset when you walk into the (Chip) Ganassi race shop throughout the years has never changed. At no point do you not go into a race weekend without thinking about not winning."
Nobody has been better or more consistent than the Iceman this season.
The New Zealander won the first three races before teammate Felix Rosenqvist finally broke the streak at Elkhart Lake. Dixon earned win No. 4 in late August outside St. Louis.
He posted top-five finishes in eight of the first nine races, has only one finish outside the top 10, has completed every lap of every race and has led the points wire to wire. So naturally, with a 71-point lead and only three races left everyone is trying to catch Dixon.
Some bad luck in qualifying puts Dixon at a disadvantage in the first race.
The car belonging to reigning Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato's spun into the gravel, bringing out a red flag and wiping out the final few minutes of the qualifying session. Dixon, was sixth in the first group, giving him the No. 12 starting spot.
Two-time champ Josef Newgarden, second in points, gained a bonus point by posting the fastest time in the group at 1 minute, 10.4706 seconds. He'll start second on the grid.
Rookie Rinus Veekay won his first pole with a time of 1:09.6903.
“This is probably the luckiest we've been as far as a yellow this season,” Newgarden said. “The car felt great right out of the box."
He needs a lot more help, too.
Even if he wins both races on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course Friday and Saturday, Dixon can still win the title with two runner-up finishes and one bonus point, which he'd gain by leading a single lap or starting the second race on the front row.
And if Dixon reaches the Brickyard's victory lane for the second time this year, Honda also could clinch the manufacturer's title over Chevrolet with a one-two finish Friday.
While the more likely scenario might be both title chases ending Saturday, Dixon is focused on Friday.
“That’s the ultimate goal, right, to leave this weekend without having to worry about the championship," he said. “The reality is that it’s still going to be very tough."
A handful of prominent part-time drivers are back at the track this weekend, too.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves replaces injured rookie Oliver Askew in the Arrow McLaren SP No. 7 car, marking the first time since 1999 that the Brazilian star hasn't driven for team owner Roger Penske. He qualified 19th at 1:10.3695.
Four-time CART champ Sebastien Bourdais of France makes his season debut in A.J. Foyt's No. 14 car and James Hinchcliffe, the 2016 Indy pole winner from Canada, is replacing Zach Veach in the Andretti Autosport No. 26. Bourdias will start 16th while Hinchcliffe starts 18th.
Seven-time Indy starter Sage Karam also will be in the 25-car field as a late entrant for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Karam qualified 21st.
THEY’RE BACK, TOO
The grandstands that were empty for races in July and August won't be empty this weekend.
Local officials approved the track's proposal to bring up to 10,000 fans into the stands for each of the four days of action this weekend. Fans can watch from the first and fourth turns only and are required to wear masks and socially distance. The speedway seats approximately 250,000 fans for the Indianapolis 500 and annually attracts crowds approaching 300,000 to the world's largest single-day sporting event.
“It's always nice to come back as the winner, and we're excited to see the fans back here," Sato said before qualifying 24th in the 25-car field. “You know winning here is special, but I really wish we could have shared the excitement with 300,000 fans."
Askew's absence, because of lingering concussion-like symptoms, has turned what had been a three-person chase into a two-person for the rookie of the year award.
Veekay, the 20-year-old Dutchman, leads Spain's Alex Palou by 40 points with three races left. Askew is third with 181 points, 43 points behind Veekay, but will probably be eliminated from the chase Friday.
“I was not happy with the car this morning, but we sta down and found some great stuff and now, finally, finally, my first pole," Veekay said.
Palou qualified 17th.