Scott Dixon widened his points lead over Helio Castroneves by winning the Bombardier Learjet 550 at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night. With three victories this season (Homestead-Miami, Indianapolis 500 and Texas) Dixon now enjoys a 35 point lead in the championship.
"I can't believe it," said a jubilant Dixon. "It's great for the team. We just want to win this championship."
Dixon was the odds on favorite after setting the fastest lap of the day shortly after rolling off the transporter Thursday afternoon. On Friday he captured the pole position by averaging 214.878 mph over a 4-lap qualifying run, over a mile an hour faster than he ran in Thursday's practice session in a single lap (213.837 mph).
During the race Dixon led seven times. He passed Marco Andretti to take the lead with seven laps remaining. On the next lap Ryan Hunter-Reay, third at the time, made a bid for second. Both drivers raced for the same portion of track and Hunter-Reay clipped the apron, shooting his car up the track and into Andretti. Both cars made hard contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn four and the race ended under caution.
"I caught a little bit in my mirror," said Dixon when asked if he saw the accident. "I saw it was getting a bit crowed back there. It gets a bit desperate in the last few laps. When you have eight laps to go and 20 guys going for second or first spot, you're going to have something happen."
Hunter-Reay and Andretti disagreed about the incident. Hunter-Reay opined that Andretti had been giving him the bottom lane on the backstretch and that meant "he would give me the low line in the corner as well, but he came down on me."
Andretti was more succinct. "He clearly hit the white line and that is that. I feel kind of bad for both of us but the fact is, there are some guys you can run close with and some guys you can't."
Helio Castroneves, who led the most laps (85), finished second. Although Castroneves led the most laps, it was fairly evident that Dixon possessed the dominant car throughout the race.
Nevertheless, Castroneves thought he had a car capable of winning, "For the car I had, it was supposed to be a win," he said. Castroneves' race may have been spoiled by a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit lane. After serving the penalty he found himself one lap down to the leaders.
Ryan Briscoe recovered from a mistake on pit lane to finish third. Like his Team Penske teammate, he went a lap down too. "I don't know what I was thinking when I missed my box," said Briscoe. "We went to the back but came through the field. The car never felt quite as good in the second half of the race as the first, but it was a great recovery for the team.
Dan Wheldon, who was involved in a huge crash on Friday, managed to stay in the top ten for most of the race to finish fourth. Wheldon was slated to run a car with a special black paint job, but it was demolished in the accident, which was blamed on a mechanical failure. "Unfortunately I wasn't able to run the Polaroid car, but that's the way it goes," said Wheldon. Calling his weekend "inconsistent," Wheldon was pleased to come out with a top five.
Tony Kanaan struggled through the weekend, qualifying a disappointing 13th. Always a fierce competitor, Kanaan soldiered on to a fifth place finish. "We struggled with the balance," he said. "Then something broke on the last stop. I think it was the rear bar. I was all over the place. I was so dangerous. I had to apologize to Dan (Wheldon) and a bunch of guys. I couldn't keep on the track."
Kanaan's Andretti Green Racing teammate Hideki Mutoh equaled his career best finish with his third sixth place (St. Petersburg and Kansas) finish this season. He was the highest finishing rookie and the last car on the lead lap. "If the last yellow didn't come out I think we could have finished in the top-three," said Mutoh, who slowed during the waning laps to save fuel. "It is a bit frustrating but that is the race." On the positive side, I learned so much this weekend, and I feel more comfortable in the traffic after this weekend."
Vitor Meira was on a different pit strategy from the leaders that ultimately put him one lap down at the finish. He led 38 laps and finished seventh. "Our car was just awesome when we were running up front. The team made one fuel only stop early in the race, so we were about 10 laps off sequence. Otherwise we were really good."
Buddy Rice finished eighth followed by Ed Carpenter, Danica Patrick and Graham Rahal in 11th. A.J. Foyt finished two laps down in 12th place.