Back on track: Scott Dixon dominates at Kansas
The defending champion of the Indianapolis 500 has his groove back.
After two crashes on the St. Petersburg and Long Beach street courses to start the season, Scott Dixon found himself 17th in the points heading into this weekend’s IndyCar Series event at Kansas Speedway. Heading out of the 1.5-mile oval, he’s now fourth in the standings after leading 134 of 200 laps en route to victory in the Road Runner Turbo Indy 300.
Even bigger, though, Dixon is now bearing major momentum as he prepares to go after back-to-back triumphs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He quickly shot from his fourth starting position to second place and on Lap 8, he was able to get inside polesitter Graham Rahal and pass the American for the lead down the front stretch.
After that, Dixon focused on saving fuel and was only challenged at the front once more by Ryan Briscoe, who led 53 laps but was unable to capitalize.
“All-in-all for me, it was a pretty smooth race,” said Dixon. “We had a great car. We jumped straight to second, then…we got out front and started saving fuel. The Target car was really good all day. We had a bit of a fumble in the pits, which dropped us back to third at one point and made it quite difficult to get past Briscoe.
“I think we were trimmed to win as they say. The car was maybe not as good as it should have been in traffic. Luckily enough, we were saving enough fuel and caught the caution that catapulted us to the front.”
He’s referring to a caution on Lap 153, when Briscoe’s chances for victory ended. The Australian had committed to pit road on that circuit, but as he took his No. 6 Team Penske car toward the pits, Dario Franchitti slid up the track and crashed in Turn 3 after failing to slow down his No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car enough in order to go to pit road himself.
Briscoe was forced to drive through pit road at the 60 m.p.h. speed limit. After the pits opened, he came out fourth following his stop. He would finish in the same spot and afterwards, he was forced to try and take solace in his top-5 result.
“It’s a solid result, but it’s really disappointing,” he said. ”We had the car to win, and we had the track position until we got caught out with that yellow, so it’s really unfortunate. But I’m happy to be disappointed for that reason, that’s for sure.”
As for Franchitti, he said that he was caught by surprise at how early Rahal hit the brakes to go to pit road.
“Graham just stopped in front of me coming into the pits,” the Scotsman said. ”That’s one of the places you can make up time, coming in and out (of the pits) and he just braked hard and we were just sort of feathering the brake.
“I got on the brakes hard when I saw him just stop and flat-spotted both [front tires], punctured them and had no steering or front grip after that…We were running sixth gear there and he was hard on the brakes.”
Rahal said that he would talk to Franchitti about the incident, but also felt that he was actually late in slowing down his No. 02 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing machine.
“I signaled that I was coming into pit lane by putting two wheels over the white line, and I did it right off Turn 2, and then I came back out to the white line and ducked in,” he said. ”I hit the brakes once I ducked, and it was pretty late – later than I have ever hit the brakes going into a pit lane.
“And all of a sudden, I see this flash going by and straight into the fence. With the speed he was carrying, he wasn’t going to make it anyway whether I was there or not.”
The resulting yellow sent the leaders onto pit road, where Dixon would beat out Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan to take the point he would not relinquish.
The final 50 laps were relatively anti-climactic as the leaders tried not to do anything too risky in the windy conditions at Kansas Speedway. Wind gusts reportedly got as quick as 30-35 m.p.h. and they were coming broadside onto the drivers in Turns 3 and 4 throughout the race.
“Everyone was having the same problem,” said Castroneves about the wind. “You can see they have to lift when they’re inside. Even on the outside, you are sometimes a little bit loose. It’s kind of difficult to find a good line and a good setup for both corners.”
Kanaan believed that the conditions made it tough to create a second line on the racetrack
“[Castroneves and I] got to look at each other before the race starts,” he said. “We’re like, ‘What the hell we doing here today?’ It was very windy. Second lane, it was really tough to go. I mean, I saw Helio, myself, a couple of other guys try to clean it up, but it never did really got the way we wanted it.
Not that it really mattered in the final stages of the race since nobody in the top five — which included Kanaan’s teammate Danica Patrick in fifth — was willing to break out of line.
“…The top four guys were so close that, you know, especially when I look ahead of me and behind me on the last restart, I knew nobody was going to make a mistake,” Kanaan continued. ”So we pretty much followed each other and then waited to see if anybody’s car was going to go off, or maybe a backmarker would help to pass.”
Patrick has also built up some steam going into the Brickyard, where she has performed nicely in recent years. Her fourth-place run at Long Beach and fifth-place effort today marks the first time she’s strung together back-to-back top-5 finishes since 2007 (third at Nashville, then fifth at Mid-Ohio).
She credited her No. 7 Andretti Green Racing team for curing her car’s early problems with understeer, as well as picking off positions for her later on.
“We made some adjustments that made the car good for the race,” she said. ”We struggled with a little bit of understeer to start, but my guys were good in the pits, got me some front wing and they were good on the stops at the end, which is what helped me kind of jump forward and pass a couple of cars.”
With the final test before Indy out of the way, Kanaan carries a one-point lead in the IndyCar Series standings over Briscoe heading into the month of May. Franchitti fell to third position, four points back, followed by Dixon (19 points back) and Ryan Hunter-Reay in fifth (26 points back). Hunter-Reay was never a factor in today’s event and finished 15th.
The next race on the 2009 IndyCar Series schedule is the 93rd Indianapolis 500-Mile Race on Sun., May 24 at 1 p.m. ET (ABC, IMS Radio Network, Sirius/XM, IndyCar.com).
Preparations for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing will begin Tues., May 5 with the two-day Rookie Orientation Program, followed by the first official day of Indy 500 practice on Thurs., May 7 from 12-6 p.m. ET. A full schedule of the month’s activities at IMS can be seen here.
Indy Racing Revolution plans to live-blog the 93rd edition of the World’s Greatest Race on race day, starting at 12:45 p.m. ET.