Dixon takes last-gasp Kentucky win
|By Jeff Olson
||Sunday, August 10th 2008, 03:43 GMT
Scott Dixon passed Helio Castroneves in the final turn Saturday night to win the Meijer Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway and push himself even closer to the IndyCar Series championship.
But it wasn't without a strategic fight.
Dixon won as Castroneves lost fuel pressure in the final turn, ending his gamble to try to steal the race from far off the pace. Dixon's victory was his sixth of the season, tying a record set by Dan Wheldon in 2005, while Castroneves finished second for the seventh time this season, also an IndyCar Series record.
The win also padded Dixon's lead in the standings to 78 points with three races remaining.
"Obviously a 78-point lead is pretty healthy, but we're going to have to still try to gain points on Helio," Dixon said. "We need an 82-point lead to have it sewn up after (the next race at) Sonoma. That would be nice, but in all reality I think we'll be battling for the championship to the last race."
Dixon was forced to surrender the lead Saturday with seven laps remaining for a splash of fuel for the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda/Dallara, giving the lead to Castroneves, who had stopped to top off with 57 laps remaining, putting himself in position to steal the race with a fuel gamble.
Dixon came out of the pits 6 seconds behind Castroneves, but chased him down as Castroneves' No. 3 Team Penske Honda/Dallara lost fuel pressure between Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap.
"At that point, I saw the lights on the dash and they were all lit," Castroneves said. "The fuel meter was off a little bit, but it wasn't off so far that I expected to get to the finish line first.
Following Dixon and Castroneves to the finish line was Marco Andretti, who battled with Dixon for the lead through the second half of the race, and Vitor Meira, who also was in position to win for much of the 200-lap event. Andretti led 38 laps and pursued Dixon tenaciously after he moved into second place on the 98th lap.
"We've got to start capitalizing when we have cars that can win races," Andretti lamented. "Dixon had a bit of speed on us, but I think we had a better car in traffic. It was between him and I to win the race, and it's just unfortunate that we didn't."
Meira led five laps early in the race and remained in the hunt throughout the race, pulling into second place behind Andretti by passing Dixon with 33 laps remaining. When Andretti and Meira pitted for a splash with 12 laps left, Andretti emerged in front.
"My car was just a little too loose on the last stint to make the move," Meira said. "We planned on it cooling down late in the race, and we knew we would be money on the last 50 laps."
When Andretti and Meira pitted, Dixon took the lead and held it until he was forced to pit for fuel with seven laps left. He emerged ahead of Andretti and Meira, but was behind Castroneves, who was desperately trying to save fuel to make it to the end of the race.
With two laps remaining, Penske president Tim Cindric told Castroneves by radio, "You gotta go, you gotta go." Castroneves increased the pace and appeared to have enough to win the race heading into Turn 3 on the final lap.
That's when the No. 3 Team Penske Honda/Dallara shuddered.
"The car misfired," Castroneves said. "If you keep your foot on the throttle, the engine won't respond because it's trying to suck more fuel and there's nothing there. What you try to do is lift a little bit to make sure you keep some revs. That's what I did. When it coughed, I kept trying to step on and off to see if I could get more fuel. Unfortunately, it didn't happen."
Dixon said he had no idea Castroneves was the driver who had employed the fuel strategy to take the lead until he started gaining on him. "The team didn't single out Helio," Dixon said.
"They said there were a few guys who had gone on an alternate strategy. They were fighting pretty hard. I didn't think coming out from this that we had enough to win. It definitely took him having a problem with fuel in order for us to win it."
Castroneves dropped back to 14th when he pitted to top off with 57 laps to go - the final available lap on which he could pit under yellow. With a fuel window of roughly 50 laps under green, he patiently drafted and saved fuel, barely staying on the lead lap.
Suddenly, when everyone else pitted for fuel late in the race, Castroneves found himself in the lead.
"We took a chance," Castroneves said. "I still can't believe how close we were. We were just a few hundred yards short."
Dixon was in Castroneves' shoes last year when Dixon's car ran out of fuel on the final turn in the season finale at Chicago and Dario Franchitti took the championship. To Dixon, Saturday's win was oddly coincidental.
"That view is pretty sweet," Dixon said. "Coming through Turns 3 and 4 and watching Helio run out of fuel with a few hundred feet to go was pretty special. I must say it's nice to be in that position."
Wheldon, whose future with Chip Ganassi's team was put in question earlier this week when Ganassi made an unsuccessful bid to hire Tony Kanaan, finished fifth. "We lost a lot of spots in the pits on that last stop," Wheldon said. "It is difficult to get them back."
Ed Carpenter finished sixth, followed by Ryan Briscoe, Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Buddy Rice.
Milka Duno had the only serious incident of the night, emerging unhurt after a mechanical failure on the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Honda/Dallara sent it into the wall. I was just turning and the car went straight into the wall," Duno said.
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1:36:42.3467
2. Helio Castroneves Penske + 0.5532
3. Marco Andretti Andretti Green + 0.5707
4. Vitor Meira Panther + 0.9102
5. Dan Wheldon Ganassi + 2.1472
6. Ed Carpenter Vision + 5.9531
7. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 6.2271
8. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green + 7.0932
9. Ryan Hunter-Reay Rahal Letterman + 10.9526
10. Buddy Rice Dreyer & Reinbold + 21.6858
11. Danica Patrick Andretti Green + 1 lap
12. Oriol Servia KV + 1 lap
13. E.J. Viso HVM + 2 laps
14. Bruno Junqueira Dale Coyne + 2 laps
15. Sarah Fisher Fisher + 2 laps
16. Jaime Camara Conquest + 3 laps
17. Mario Moraes Dale Coyne + 5 laps
18. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green + 43 laps
19. Darren Manning Foyt + 53 laps
20. A.J. Foyt IV Vision + 64 laps
21. Milka Duno Dreyer & Reinbold + 70 laps
22. Enrique Bernoldi Conquest + 76 laps
23. Marty Roth Roth + 102 laps
24. Justin Wilson Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 118 laps
25. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 172 laps
26. Will Power KV + 195 laps