The Sports Xchange
LEXINGTON, Ohio — Mr. Mid-Ohio did it again.
This time, in dramatic fashion, Scott Dixon won the IndyCar Series race from the last starting position. He started 22nd because he created a caution flag in qualifying, leading officials to erase his two fastest laps.
Dixon's Ganassi Racing crew brought him to pit road an extra time early in the race, enabling him to cycle to the front and win his 34th career race, tying Al Unser Jr. for sixth place all-time.
"It was very close (on fuel)," Dixon said. "We didn't run out of fuel there (on the cooldown) lap, but we would have on the back side of the circuit, and it would have been a long walk back (to pit road)."
Dixon caught two big breaks, the first when a caution flag came at a beneficial time. Then, the crew of Josef Newgarden left part of the air hose out in the pit box, and the driver struck it. That caused the crew member to fall, and IndyCar to issue a penalty for hitting pit equipment.
That miscue gave Dixon the lead for good. He went on to win his fifth race at this 13-turn, 2.258-mile circuit in eight races, all since 2007. Dixon has won three of the past four trips to this permanent road course but never in this fashion.
Chip Ganassi's team won its sixth consecutive race at this track, and the victory became the first of the season for the Indianapolis-based organization.
Newgarden finished 12th.
"Everything seemed normal to start with; I just noticed that (the car) didn't go up for whatever reason. Then I knew something was wrong," Newgarden said. "I didn't even realize we were going to get (penalized). That's adding salt to the wound. It was just a shame that we had to get our race ruined."
Will Power was the other big winner of this race. He became the series points leader with three races to go by finishing sixth as Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves had an early mechanical problem and finished 19th. Their separation heading to the Aug. 17 race at the Milwaukee Mile, an oval track, is four points.
The first full-course caution at this track since 2011 happened just after the green flag waved, with former Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan trying to make a pass on Newgarden in Turn 4.
Kanaan couldn't make the inside move stick, and he lost control due to slight contact. The spin that followed was in front of the meat of the pack, and damage had no choice but to follow.
The biggest hit on Kanaan's backward-facing car came from former teammate Marco Andretti, whose car got left-side wheels off the ground before the car landed back as it should. Still, the damage was done to both cars, forcing them to finish 21st and 22nd.
"It was really tight for both of us, and I don't know if he saw me or not," Kanaan said of Newgarden. "I was all the way alongside him and then towards the middle of the corner he was actually a little bit ahead, so there was contact there.
"Man, I was in a tough position there."
Kanaan said he "felt bad" for Andretti, a Nazareth native.
"Just a victim of (starting) in the back," Andretti said. He later tweeted: "Out at the start. Going to the gym. Glad @tonykanaan is OK. Sorry I couldn't avoid."
Meanwhile, several drivers had to take evasive action. Juan Pablo Montoya, Takuma Sato, Mike Conway, Justin Wilson, Charlie Kimball and Dixon all had to escape to the grass to avoid contact. Somehow, James Hinchcliffe squeezed through a pack of cars without damage.
Castroneves was well clear of the carnage; he was still on pit road with the faulty accelerator modular. He finally got on the track after the field had completed four caution laps.
Ryan Hunter-Reay couldn't capitalize. He jumped to third in the opening mess and had the lead after the first round of pit stops, but IndyCar's electric eye caught him speeding on pit road. That drew a slow drive down pit road.
Hunter-Reay came out of the pits in ninth, one spot behind Power, but a few laps later he spun in Turn 11 while carrying too much speed. Fortunately, Hunter-Reay's car wasn't damaged, although after the ensuring stop under caution, he restarted 17th.
Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud are now tied for third, 64 points behind Power.
NOTES: Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay said he is nearly set to sign a contract to remain with Andretti Autosport. James Hinchcliffe can't say the same yet as he waits on the team to finalize its plans. … Most of IndyCar's silly season will start to take shape once Simon Pagenaud decides where he wants to race next year. Odds are still in favor of Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports retaining the talented Frenchman, but Sam Schmidt said he won't hold Pagenaud back if he wants to move on.
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