Champion Dixon shrugs off race loss

Scott Dixon had no regrets about having race victory at Chicagoland Speedway taken away from him, despite originally being declared the winner, having clinched his second IRL IndyCar Series championship title

Champion Dixon shrugs off race loss

Scoring monitors initially showed Dixon as the race winner, but video replays showed his title rival Helio Castroneves hitting the stripe first - with the Brazilian's margin of victory eventually confirmed as 0.0033 seconds - the second-closest winning margin in series history - some hours after the race.

While the victory didn't end in the championship he desired, Castroneves was consoled somewhat by the effort, coming from 28th starting position after a penalty for dropping below the white line during his qualifying run.

"Coming from the back, we proved we proved that we kept the 'three Cs' together - calm, cool, collected," Castroneves said. "That's what we did. We executed our plan."

As Castroneves celebrated the delayed news of victory, Dixon celebrated the larger picture, putting an exclamation point on a stellar season in which he won six races, including the Indianapolis 500 in May.

"It's been amazing, an unforgettable year," Dixon said. "Any year when you win the 500 is going to be like that, but when you top it off with a championship, it's unbelievable. I still can't believe it. Getting married, winning the 500 and winning the championship all in the same season - not too many people can say they've done that."

Initially, Dixon thought he had won the race. Scoring monitors showed Dixon as the winner in 0.001 seconds - which would have been the closest finish in IndyCar Series history - but subsequent photo and video replays showed the nose of Castroneves' car reaching the finish line first.

Whenever scoring monitors show a margin of victory of 0.006 or less, IndyCar officials revert to photo evidence to determine or clarify the winner and the precise margin of victory. Within minutes of the cars reaching the finish line and Dixon being declared the unofficial winner, Castroneves was declared the official winner - after Dixon had already celebrated in Victory Circle.

Castroneves received the news from a reporter and immediately began jumping with joy on live television.

"I won!" Castroneves screamed. "I knew I'd won!"

For Dixon and his crew, being stripped of victory after the initial celebration didn't create much consternation. The important goal of the race had been achieved regardless of where he actually finished on the day.

"We didn't win?" Dixon joked with reporters an hour after the race, noting the scoring monitors still showing him as the winner.

"It was the craziest Victory Circle I've been involved in. You roll your car in, you get out like you won the race, and then they roll it off and take your hat and tell you that you haven't won the race. That was tough to deal with, but we all knew we'd won the championship, and that was the main goal."

Chip Ganassi, Dixon's team owner, said he didn't give the demotion from first to second much consideration, since it didn't affect the fact that Dixon had won the championship.

"I thought about it for a millisecond," Ganassi said.

The margin of victory was second only to the 0.0024-second margin between Sam Hornish Jr and Al Unser Jr at Chicagoland in September 2002.

Dixon needed only to finish eighth or better to clinch the championship, but Castroneves led much of the race while Dixon languished for a time around 10th place. In the waning laps, though, Dixon turned up the fuel mixture and closed in on Castroneves. By the end of the race, the two principals in the championship were racing wheel to wheel.

"In the middle of it, we were a bit worried," Dixon said. "We were racing with some people that we didn't need to be, and that's why we slipped back. After that restart, we got back up there."

Dixon won the race off pit road at the final pit stops and held on through most of a side-by-side duel with Castroneves during the final laps. However, Castroneves pulled ahead just as the cars reached the finish line, but it wasn't enough to take the championship from Dixon.

"I didn't think Helio had the speed to get around us," Dixon said, "but he definitely did."

The championship was the second for Dixon, who moved from Champ Car to the Indy Racing League with Ganassi in 2003 and won the title in his first season.

Dixon said his first championship came as a shock because of his inexperience with the venues and competitors. This one, he said, was more profound because of the depth of the competition. The two open-wheel series unified under IRL control before the start of the 2008 season.

"We didn't really know what we'd won then," Dixon said. "After '04 and '05, it makes you cherish things much more. Knowing the guys and knowing what they go through, this means more than the first year.

"With the disciplines we have now - street courses, road courses, short ovals and super speedways - you definitely get a true champion out of that."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Dixon
Author Jeff Olson
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