AUTO RACING: Dixon wins in IndyCar return to Pocono
LONG POND — Scott Dixon felt like his losing streak stretched as long as IndyCar’s absence from Pocono.
After 24 years, the series returned to the triangle track.
And it was a big welcome back to Victory Lane for Dixon. Dixon enjoyed it so much, he even had two of his teammates tag along on the podium.
Dixon led a monster day for Chip Ganassi Racing, leading a podium sweep for the team with a win Sunday at the IndyCar Series event at Pocono Raceway. He was followed by Ganassi teammates Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti in IndyCar’s first race at Pocono since 1989.
Ganassi was waiting when Dixon hopped out of the No. 9 Honda.
“I said to him, ‘This morning, I didn’t think we’d be sitting here,’” Dixon said. “To say the least, it was a little bit of a shock.”
Dixon struggled this season to make a serious run at wins and had led only one lap, at the Indianapolis 500. He led the final 27 at Pocono for his 30th career IndyCar victory. He snapped a 13-race winless streak that dated to the Aug. 12, 2012 race at Mid-Ohio.
“It has been a tough year,” Dixon said. “We’ve had some great races and we’ve had a lot of bad ones. That’s motor racing, man.”
He caught a big break when Tony Kanaan clipped Dixon’s car on a pass for the lead and was forced to pit road. Dixon dominated down the stretch of the 400-mile race and became IndyCar’s eighth different winner in 11 races this season.
Kanaan lost his bid at the Triple Crown when he clipped his front wing on Dixon’s car. Kanaan connected with Dixon on a pass for the lead on the 107th lap. Kanaan had to pit three laps later and faded to the back.
He lost the lead — and a chance for $1 million.
With Pocono back on the schedule, IndyCar resurrected the “Triple Crown” challenge, a three-race competition for $1 million to the driver that wins the Indianapolis 500, Pocono and the season finale at Fontana. A driver who wins two of the three can win a $250,000 bonus from promotion sponsor Fuzzy’s Vodka, leaving Kanaan and Dixon still eligible for the prize.
Kanaan had no idea he hit Dixon and spent most of the rest of the race a lap down. He finished 13th.
“I made a mistake and it cost us big,” Kanaan said. “I had a run on Dixon but didn’t really think that I was closing that fast on him. We had a car that was capable of winning this race.”
Andretti Autosport had three of them after it qualified three drivers on the front row. But James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay were involved in accidents and Marco Andretti battled fuel woes over the final laps.
Will Power was fourth and Josef Newgarden fifth. Points leader Helio Castroneves was eighth.
Dixon’s win helped push him to fourth in the points standings. He also moved into 10th on IndyCar’s career wins list.
“Considering the crazy and poor results we’ve had throughout the year, it’s still astonishing that we are fourth in the championship,” he said.
This was the first time Ganassi swept a podium in any form of racing: IndyCar, CART, NASCAR or Grand-Am. It was the 100th win for Ganassi’s Target-sponsored cars in all forms of motor sports and the 200th in IndyCar competition for engine manufacturer Honda.
“I had no idea we’d go 1-2-3,” Ganassi said. “I was just hoping for a decent finish today.”
Kimball matched his career-best finish and Franchitti had his first podium finish of the season.
When Franchitti walked into the media center, he mused, “Who saw that one coming?”
Certainly not the guys at Andretti.
Andretti Autosport’s banner qualifying effort that saw three cars start on the front row was wasted before the second lap. Hinchcliffe’s bid for his series-high fourth win was derailed when he tagged the wall heading into the first turn of the first lap.
Hinchcliffe, who started third, limped as he walked out of his car. He said he just banged up one of his knees.
Hinchcliffe was cleared at the infield care center and worked the rest of the race in ABC’s broadcast booth.
“The car just snapped loose on me,” he said. “We went a bit aggressive on setup because we had an understeering car all week, and we didn’t want that in the race. Maybe we overstepped it a bit.”
Hunter-Reay started second and was running in the top five when he was involved in a pit road accident. Takuma Sato hit the right side of Hunter-Reay’s car near the entrance of pit lane. Hunter-Reay was forced to the garage with damage to his right front wheel and front wing. He returned about 20 laps later and finished 20th
Andretti, raised about 30 minutes away in nearby Nazareth, won the pole and was the hometown favorite. He dominated the race and led the most laps until fuel woes put him 10th. He ran out just after he crossed the finish line.
With the Andretti crew out of the picture, Ganassi’s drivers set the pace. This was the first 1-2-3 team finish since Roger Penske had Power, Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe on the podium in August 2011 at Sonoma Raceway.
“To have a glimpse of something great and something to be positive about, hopefully we can keep the momentum rolling,” Dixon said.