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Tuesday Crew Chief: Texas

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The DXC 600 at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday night has further separated those realistically capable of winning the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Astor Cup and the drivers who cannot.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is at or near the top of the contenders’ list. After taking twin checkered flags from IndyCar Chief Starter Paul Blevin first, the Iceman has verified what many already have known since he won his very first series start at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2003. This is one pilot capable of reaching the top-step of the podium at any time. The New Zealander has made his share of gaffes so far this campaign. However, it appears the worst-case scenarios have been avoided.

Even with penalties and on-track errors on the table, Dixon has no placed no worse than 11th at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, and the remaining eight appearances have netted top-six results. Those returns are comparable to the resumes posted by most of the recent Astor Cup winners, including last year’s champion Josef Newgarden.

As for the Team Penske ace, a Verizon P1 Award earned on Friday was not enough to revive the reigning IndyCar from his current slumber. Despite two triumphs at Phoenix and in Birmingham, Alabama, the No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet pilot has come home seventh or worse in all other shows to date. While still holding fifth on the current points chart, his trend is far more downward when put against each of the first four competitors ahead, and also is lacking against several in the top-ten.

The two-week break could be what it takes to change course for the Music City-based racer. The track layouts at Road America and Iowa Speedway are within reason to the two victory venues conquered by the current No. 1 plate holder, and must be signs of life if a realistic challenge to keep the coveted digit is in the cards.

Among the rest of the headline acts in the title hunt, only Indianapolis 500 champion Will Power suffered a setback in the Lone Star State. Although the double-points haul at the Brickyard should cushion the 18th-place return from Texas, it does present a red flag to those that believe the Australian is cursed concerning luck. As often mentioned, there may be no other chauffeur among the current series full-time fleet who has the balance of aggression, yet controlled pace shown by the No. 12 Chevrolet wheelman. However,  bad luck has been a common foe. The DXC 600 failure to finish, is the 2014 title holder’s third such return this season.

The remainder of the bundle; Andretti Autosport teammates Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay each followed their form from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend. Minus the advantageous Chevrolet engine, the dynamic duo of youthful exuberance and knowledgeable veteran each limited the point loss in comparison with Scott Dixon. With a better grid position at Dallas-Fort Worth, the 2016 Indy 500 king bettered his Brickyard performance with the last spot on the podium. RHR, who lifted the Astor Cup in 2012, repeated his outing in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, once again banking a P5.

For the rest of the field, the biggest bounce-back came from surprise Indy 500 qualifying failure James Hinchcliffe. After still suffering from the shock the previous week in Detroit, the Mayor jumped to fourth at the end of 248 laps Saturday night. While probably eliminated from the title picture, it will be interesting how far up the list the Canadian can climb, without a double points race start in play till the Sonoma finale.

While the General Motors partners went to town last month at Indy, two notable advantage takers were missing in action at Texas Motor Speedway. A.J. Foyt Racing suffered a humiliating two-car retirement in their home race and Ed Carpenter Racing could do no better than an 11th-place outing from Spencer Pigot, on paper the lesser of the squad’s two competitors on high-speed ovals.

It will be interesting to see if the extended break will bolster some mid-field or backmarkers closer to the head of the class, or vice versa for the current throne holders.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

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