Target Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon won his record-tying sixth race of the season at the Meijer Indy 300 at the Kentucky Speedway.
The race literally went down to the wire as Scott Dixon passed Helio Castroneves a few hundred yards from the finish line on the final lap. Marco Andretti finished third.
This win almost certainly cements the series win; barring disasters in all of the remaining races, Dixon will be the season champion.
A Tough Track
The 1.5 mile Kentucky Speedway is a modified oval with a long, arcing back straight, noted for three-wide, side-by-side racing all the way around. "Kentucky is a tough track to master, because it's very bumpy and very fast," explained Penske driver Helio Catroneves, "There is hardly any banking, so it's always a challenge to make sure we get the right setup. The race always comes down to the final laps.”
To make the set-up more difficult, the race was a day-night affair, starting around sunset and finishing under the lights. This meant that track and air temperature changed dramatically throughout the race. Crews were tested as much as drivers at Kentucky.
Danica Patrick had another hard-luck weekend. Her car broke during practice, putting her into the wall and forcing her to start last on the grid on race day.
Dixon Runs up Front
Points leader Scott Dixon took the pole and led the race early on, followed by Vitor Meira, still looking for his series win, Dan Wheldon in third. These three opened up a long lead over the rest of the field.
On lap 45, Vitor Meira passed Dixon for the race lead. Meira immediately pulled away from Dixon. It was not clear whether Dixon was letting Meira burn fuel and wear out his car while Dixon drove more conservatively, or if Meria’s car was really that much better.
During the first round of pit stop, Meira’s crew adjusted tire pressures but got it wrong. Dixon retook the lead, with Wheldon in second and Meira back in third.
By the halfway point, Marco Andretti’s car started working well, while Dixon’s car started to understeer a little. Andretti was right on Dixon’s wing for several laps/…. After trying for thirty laps, finally on lap 121 Andretti got past Dixon on the high side trapping Dixon behind Enrique Bernold. Dixon dropped back to third.
On lap 123 Milka Dunno, one of three female drivers in the race, slammed hard into the wall in turn two, bringing out a full-course yellow. Scott Dixon’s team took advantage of being in the first opit stall, nearest the exit—a prerogative of the series leader—to send Dixon out of the pits just ahead of Marco Andretti, giving the Dixon the lead again.
The race went back to green with 55 laps to go. Ten laps later, Andretti retook the lead; Meira passed Dixon two laps after that.
Before the race, Vitor Meira told reporters that as the day cooled off, his car would be “money.” with twenty laps left, he was proved right, as he swarmed all over race lead Marco Andretti. However, catching is not passing, and Vitor while in the money, could not grab the gold.
Castroneves Runs Dry, Dixon Goes By
With ten laps to go, cars stated pitting for splash-and-go fuel stops. Andretti and Meira came in together. Then with six to go, Dixon pitted.
Helio Castrioneves, who had been fighting his car all day, took the lead when Dixon pitted. Helio had pitted for adjustments after the green flag on lap 145, and possibly had enough fuel to finish.
Dixon drove flat out for the final laps, while Castroneves tried to conserve fuel. Castronves had not won a race all year; it seemed he might finally take a checkered flag.
On the final lap, Dixon caught up to Castroneves; coming out of the last corner, Castroneves ran dry and Dixon passed him a few hundred from the finish line, winning his sixth race of the season.