Story By: PAUL KELLY / INDYCAR – SPEEDWAY, IN – Scott Dixon continued two remarkable streaks Saturday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, one at the green flag and another at the checkered.
Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon rallied from a spin into the grass after being collected in an accident on Lap 1 to win the Gallagher Grand Prix in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Dixon, from New Zealand, extended his INDYCAR SERIES record streak to 19 consecutive seasons with at least one victory on a day when he also set a series record with his 319th consecutive start.
“What a day to win on,” said Dixon as he held his 3-year-old son, Kit. “It makes it so fun, especially for this little guy. He gets to see it. It’s been a little while since I’ve had a win, probably over a year. It makes it worthwhile, and we’re going to keep trying to win on (start) No. 320.”
NTT P1 Award winner Graham Rahal finished a season-best second in the 85-lap race, as his late charge to catch Dixon fell just .4779 of a second short in the No. 15 Code 3 Associates Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. It was the closest INDYCAR SERIES finish ever on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course.
Pato O’Ward finished third in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Christian Lundgaard, who joined RLL teammate Rahal on the front row at the start, placed fourth in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda. Alexander Rossi, who won this event last year, rounded out the top five in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.
Championship leader Alex Palou finished seventh in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing to expand his points gap to 101 over Dixon, who leapfrogged Josef Newgarden for second. Newgarden also was caught in the melee that collected Dixon but immediately lost a lap due and finished a season-low 25th in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, two laps down. Newgarden is third in the standings, 105 points behind Palou with three races remaining.
“Finishing the race today was important,” Palou said. “A good result for the team with Scott winning the race today and a good result for us in the championship.”
Dixon’s “spin to win” maybe wasn’t as dramatic as Danny Sullivan’s similar maneuver in the short chute between Turns 1 and 2 of the IMS oval to win the 1985 Indianapolis 500, but it was arguably just as improbable.
On the first lap, Palou nudged the rear of the No. 11 IU Simon Cancer Center Honda of rookie teammate Marcus Armstrong in heavy traffic in Turn 7 at the end of the back straightaway, and Armstrong spun. The concertina effect of drivers trying to avoid the incident caused Romain Grosjean’s No. 28 DHL Honda to touch Dixon, spinning Dixon’s car into the grass. Then Newgarden, who started 25th, arrived at the scene with nowhere to go, and his car climbed over the nose of Armstrong’s stopped car, damaging Newgarden’s front wing.
Dixon kept his engine running in the infield grass, straightened his car and returned to the track. He pitted on Lap 5 on an alternate strategy and started his march toward the front.
Meanwhile, Devlin DeFrancesco continued to hold the lead after a daring dive from his fifth starting position to the front in Turn 1 on the opening lap in the No. 29 TRUBAR/Jones Soda Honda. But Rahal dove under DeFrancesco in Turn 1 on Lap 9 to take the top spot.
Rahal, Lundgaard and Dixon then traded the lead through pit cycles over the next 50 laps before Dixon made his final stop on Lap 59 after turning blazing laps before entering pit road.
Dixon also turned scintillating out laps after his final stop. Rahal pitted from first on Lap 64 for his final stop but exited in second behind Dixon.
On Lap 66, Dixon led Rahal by 6.1866 seconds, with both drivers on Firestone alternate tires. But Rahal’s fresher tires paid dividends, and he began to claw ground on Dixon.
“The only problem there toward the end I think on my out laps I pushed it too hard to kind of create that gap on Graham and unfortunately burned the tires up a little bit,” Dixon said. “It was a little sketchy at the end, but we tried to put on a show for everyone.”
Dixon’s lead dropped to 3.8448 seconds by Lap 72, with Rahal pulling to within 1.6028 seconds on Lap 80.
Both drivers then reached lapped traffic, and Rahal closed the gap to .5076 of a second on Lap 82 after he and Dixon cleared the slower cars. The margin shrank to .2689 of a second with two laps to go, and it appeared Rahal was setting up for a final-lap showdown for the win with Dixon.
But Dixon padded his lead to .8639 of a second at the white flag and hung on during the final trip around the circuit that includes portions of the famous 2.5-mile oval and the Yard of Bricks at IMS.
“I was on overtake on the second-to-last lap; he was, too,” Rahal said. “And I just wasn’t gaining ground. I was holding dead even with him for some reason. I don’t know why. I just couldn’t make a lunge at him. I thought that was going to be a really good run at it, a really good shot.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of. We’re going against the best, the best of all time, by far. Nineteen straight seasons with a win? It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely insane.”
Dixon will split $10,000 with Chip Ganassi Racing and his chosen charity, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, for his victory as part of the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge.
Palou will earn the $1 million PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge bonus if he wins the next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Sunday, Aug. 27 on the World Wide Technology Raceway oval. The bonus is presented to the first driver who wins on a road course, street circuit and oval in a season. Palou already has victories this season on road course and street circuit.
The WWTR event is the final oval race of the season and starts a stretch of three consecutive race weekends to crown a series champion. Palou can clinch his second title in the last three seasons if he leads by 108 points or more after the Aug. 27 race.