By JENNA FRYER – AP Auto Racing Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Scott Dixon watched Scott McLaughlin lead lap after lap around Portland International Raceway and thought that at some point his fellow New Zealander would be told to stop.
There is a championship at stake – the closest IndyCar title fight in 19 years – and McLaughlin is a long shot at best. Teammate Will Power is the points leader, so Dixon figured radio orders would eventually call McLaughlin to give Power the lead.
“I think I called it with 10 laps to go, ‘I’m surprised they haven’t traded yet,'” Dixon said.
Team Penske has issued no such team order and will now wait until Sunday to see if it costs the organization the IndyCar title.
McLaughlin won his third race of the season and enters this weekend’s season finale with points leader Power by 41 points. Still mathematically in the fight, but needs a lot of help on the California road course.
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Power, meanwhile, finished second to McLaughlin in Portland on Sunday to extend his lead in the standings. He arrived in Portland just three points ahead of teammate Josef Newgarden, and Power is now 20 points ahead of Newgarden and Dixon.
Like Dixon, Power wondered why Team Penske hadn’t dismissed McLaughlin.
“Absolutely. I was on the radio asking for it,” Power said, noting a win would have earned him an additional 11 points and sent him to Laguna Seca up 31 on the competition.
“Obviously 10 points, 11 points would make a big difference,” Power said. “You wouldn’t have to finish third (to win the title). You should have finished eighth or something like that.
Power then turned to Dixon and asked his longtime rival if his car owner, Chip Ganassi, would have called the team controls to the position. Dixon nodded affirmatively.
But Power has seen it before after years of championship battles against the Ganassi group, including a four-year fight with Dixon and Dario Franchitti from 2010 to 2013. As Dixon and Franchitti have always worked as a group, they have often asked why Power at Penske was forced to struggle with his own teammates as well.
Power finished second in the championship race behind a Ganassi rider three years in a row, finished fourth in 2013 and then finally claimed his only title in 2014 beating teammate Helio Castroneves.
Roger Penske allows each of his drivers to represent their teams and sponsors individually, and his drivers can race against each other, but he draws that line by crashing into each other. Because he wants everyone to have a fair chance, all pre-race talk about potential team orders for pole-sitter McLaughlin was kept brief.
“Ultimately, it was completely circumstantial. The position you’re in is pretty obvious if you have to give up,” McLaughlin said. “I told Will before the race that I would fight him clean, and I think that’s all he expected.”
And even though he was unaware that Power was on the radio asking for a change of leaders, McLaughlin said he understood and would have understood had he been ordered to stop. He led 104 of 110 laps in a landslide victory.
“I am a team player. I will do whatever I have to do, but for me I think the best thing we could do was win the race, whatever the car. I think that’s exactly what happened,” McLaughlin said.
But if he had been told to give the victory?
“Everyone knew I would have been the real winner, then?” he said.
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