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IndyCar’s Dixon still upset with O’Ward about race day crash

Scott Dixon (9) of New Zealand starts to pull out of his pit during the IndyCar auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, April 2, 2023.(AP Photo/Larry Papke)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Scott Dixon’s opinion about Sunday’s crash hasn’t changed, nor has Pato O’Ward’s respect for the six-time IndyCar champion.

Four days after the two drivers tangled in Long Beach, they arrived for the first of two Indianapolis 500 test sessions without speaking to one another.

“No,” Dixon said when asked if his perspective had changed. “I thought it was pretty wild there was no penalty on both cars. But if that’s how it’s going to be, then that’s what they need to stick to. But it seemed like there was no race control there.”

The dispute began after O’Ward dove inside Dixon heading into the eighth turn of the street course. When their tires touched on Lap 20, Dixon went nose first into a tire barrier as O’Ward navigated his way through the contact and drove to a 17th place finish.

Dixon managed to complete 17 more laps after dropping from sixth to 25th before becoming the first car to drop out of the race. After Dixon’s quest for record-tying seventh series crown took a hit, the 42-year-old veteran said he would not have made the move. The New Zealander’s wife, Emma, also complained on social media that inconsistent calls give the series a bad look.

The 23-year-old O’Ward, meanwhile, made a similar move in the same turn later in the race and spun. The Mexican driver wound up getting shuffled back in the pack, slipping from the overall points lead to second.

O’Ward appeared in no hurry to patch things up.

“I actually haven’t seen him (Dixon). I tried to look for him in the driver’s meeting and I saw Marcus (Ericssson), I saw (Alex) Palou and I saw (Takuma) Sato,” O’Ward said before taking a lighter stance. “I didn’t see Scott, though. I’m going to give him a big bear hug.”

O’Ward downplayed the dispute with Dixon.

“We’re big boys. The guy’s probably been through it many times in his career and it’s probably not going to be the last time we have a disagreement on track,” O’Ward said. “But it definitely doesn’t take away from the respect. He’s my hero. He was one of my heroes growing up. Just because we had a little incident on track, people made it seem like it was the end of the world. But it was, you know, racing.”

Disputes among drivers over on-track conduct are standard fare. How long they linger and whether they actually dissipate often depends on if or how they’re resolved. And that’s not always a simple apology.

“You never should dispute right after the race,” four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves said. “You’ve got to cool down, analyze videos and if you still believe you’re on the right side then the person who believes he’s right should call and say, ‘Why? What were you thinking?’”

That could still happen before the series returns to Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama next week.

During Thursday’s extended practice session on a warm, windy day, 33 drivers turned more than 3,100 laps.

American Josef Newgarden turned the fastest lap of the day, going 227.686 (366.425) in a much faster afternoon session that was briefly marred by a pit lane incident between Callum Ilott and Rinus VeeKay. Race control kept Ilott off the track for five minutes after he drove into the fast lane and ran into Veekay.

While there was chatter about R.C. Enerson possibly becoming the 34th driver to attempt to qualify for the May 28 race — an entry that would ensure bumping next month — Brazilian Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner, completed his refresher course. He is hoping to make his 22nd consecutive, and presumably, final 500 start.

“It won’t be the same, so I’m going to enjoy it,” Kanaan said, acknowledging another looming retirement. “We completed the two hours, so we took it back to make some adjustments and we’re going to run as much as we can.”

That was a common approach with Friday’s forecast calling for a strong chance of rain. Because track workers normally need 2 1/2 to three hours to dry the track, Friday could be rained out.

“Two hours goes fast,” two-time series champ Josef Newgarden said. “It looks doubtful we’re going to run (Friday) so everyone’s kind of jamming everything into this condensed one-day session and they’re trying to get a lot done.”