Dixon cruises to landmark Mid-Ohio win

Scott Dixon used a combination of better fuel mileage and good balance of tire selection to win his fourth IndyCar race of the season, but 20th in his IndyCar career. The latter number breaks a tie for most wins under IRL sanctioning that he ...

Scott Dixon used a combination of better fuel mileage and good balance of tire selection to win his fourth IndyCar race of the season, but 20th in his IndyCar career. The latter number breaks a tie for most wins under IRL sanctioning that he previously held with Sam Hornish Jr.

"Obviously, it's a fantastic milestone for the team, as we've achieved all those with Target," Dixon said. "Unfortunately, Sam's not here to defend it and that's the sad side of it. It's going to be tough to hang onto that, Helio (Castroneves) is at 16 or so, a couple others on 14 and 15. If I got to 25, 30, it would be pretty cool."

Dixon led a podium sweep for drivers from Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, yet another race where the dominant red cars of the season were the major contributors to the script. Dixon's car was so good on blacks he romped to a margin of victory of a whopping 29.7803 seconds over Ryan Briscoe.

"It did feel smooth and good... the car was just really good," Dixon said. "It's normally very hard to keep close to the guy in front of you with the same strategy. We were running leaner than them. You don't get cars like this too often."

The win also propelled Dixon, from Ganassi, back to the points lead. For yet another race, the season championship lead changed hands, as Dixon retakes the series lead from Penske's Briscoe.

The pole-sitter finished second, just edging Dario Franchitti. Dixon now leads Briscoe by three points (460-457), with Franchitti third both on the day and the championship at 440 markers.

"We didn't have the speed really," Briscoe said of his race. "I couldn't attack the corners as aggressively as I liked, understeering through the middle. I could see Scott was much faster. He just wouldn't back off. He got us in the pit stops, he went a lot further on the first stint."

Franchitti looked flustered from the 90-plus degree temperatures, with the predicted record heat and the added pressure of a dominant teammate making the usually cool Scotsman sweat profusely.

"We had a good start, managed to pass three cars, and stayed there for the lap," Franchitti said. "At that point the car was pretty good on the reds. But on the blacks, I wasn't happy with the balance of the car. The same problem we had at Edmonton; we have it figured out on the streets but not the roads. It doesn't suit my driving style like it does Scott's."

Winning the underdog, non-CGR and Penske class, was Ryan Hunter-Reay who drove a clean, heady and steady race for A.J. Foyt Enterprises. It's RHR's second-best finish of the season after a runner-up finish at St. Petersburg, and the best finish for Foyt's team this season. Hideki Mutoh finished best in the four-car Andretti Green Racing quartet, fifth overall for his best ever road or street course result.

"We put pressure on quite a few cars today and that was good," said Hunter-Reay. "At the end of the race, Hideki and I were running some of the fastest laps out there. The reds were good, the blacks were a little bit off."

Dixon's main competition for most of the race was Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing, but Wilson fell to the wolves after running two laps longer in the second stint than was possible with his fuel amount. He had a slow entry into the pit with his car bone dry, and proceeded to stall on exit. The fiasco cost Wilson a sure podium finish and dropped him to an unrepresentative 13th.

"Sometimes things don't work out how you want them to," Wilson said of the stop. "But Scott was just unbeatable. I thought we were a lot better of everyone behind him. They've got everything perfect."

The race was largely uneventful around the 2.258-mile road course, with two cautions around half distance breaking up the monotony. Otherwise Mid-Ohio held true to form as somewhat of a procession on a hot and humid day, and the Honda overtake system (push-to-pass) made little difference.

Briscoe started on pole but only led the first five laps before Wilson made his charge. On lap six, Wilson went to the inside of Briscoe into turn 11, to complete the pass for the lead while using the Honda overtake button. In the next five laps, Wilson gapped Briscoe by nearly five seconds.

The only incident in the opening stages was an off for Tony Kanaan at the Keyhole, after slight contact with Hunter-Reay in a battle for seventh. Kanaan pitted and changed his tires from reds to blacks.

Wilson continued to lead through the first pit stop cycles as all bar E.J. Viso in the top ten switched from reds to blacks. Dixon jumped Briscoe for second, and as Briscoe struggled with the balance of his car he had an uphill fight to keep Franchitti and Rahal at bay.

Dixon caught Wilson several tenths a lap after the first pit stops, and made the pass for the lead going into turn four. Dixon pitted three laps later than Wilson and that was the difference. Both cars were still stuck trying to lap backmarker Milka Duno and Wilson stayed close, but when the leaders passed Duno, Dixon checked out into another zip code.

Dixon's lead was momentarily halted for the first full course yellow on lap 40 caused when Helio Castroneves went into the gravel trap at the Keyhole. He recovered to come out of there but pitted and dropped from sixth to 17th.

The race briefly resumed before the second full course caution on lap 45. Mike Conway made an ambitious passing attempt on Danica Patrick into turn four, and Patrick slid into the gravel trap with a severely dusted car. She lost two laps and resumed, but without chance of a good finish from that point. Conway was slapped with a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

Dixon checked out again on the restart with Wilson giving chase as best he could. A switch to reds for the final stint could have helped but for the eventual downfall.

"He didn't need to save fuel in the second stint, so it would be tough to hold him off later," Wilson said.

Marco Andretti ran a longer middle stint on a slightly off-sequence pit strategy and vaulted to second, but once he stopped the order was restored. Andretti finished sixth, ahead of Paul Tracy, Graham Rahal, Raphael Matos and Kanaan. Rahal ran in the top five most of the race but an off-course excursion at the Keyhole dropped him down the order.

Dixon, Briscoe and Franchitti are still incredibly close in the battle for the championship, all separated by 20 points. With four races remaining, only the next round at Sonoma is on a road course with the rest on ovals. Castroneves and Patrick in fourth and fifth have lost touch with the championship leaders, each 100 points or more behind Dixon.

It is the 12th time in 13 races the series lead has changed hands, and it could happen again at Sonoma in two weeks.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Milka Duno , Justin Wilson , Helio Castroneves , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Graham Rahal , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Ryan Briscoe , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Mike Conway , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick
Teams A.J. Foyt Enterprises , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing