|Ganassi driver Scott Dixon (9) and Marco Andretti battle for the lead for much of the race. Andretti went on to finish third while Dixon posted his sixth win of the season. (Photos by Wade Bell)|
Dixon wins Meijer 300
Castroneves just a pint short
August 13, 2008
That was all the fuel Helio Castroneves needed to finish and win the Meijer Indy 300 Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway. Instead, Castroneves ran out of fuel in the final turn of the final lap and watched as Scott Dixon blew by to win the 300-mile event. It was Dixon's sixth win of the season and Castroneves' seventh second place of the year.
"I think it's definitely circumstances of when, it's your year, things just seem to go your way," Dixon said after his win. "Definitely races like Nashville and here tonight, we maybe didn't have the best strategy, and guys like Penske and Helio pulled up a pretty big one there and had us definitely surprised."
"It's funny," Castroneves said. "Scott Dixon says to me, 'Man, every time I win, you finish second.' I say, 'Well, every time I finish second, you finish first. We've got to change that. You've got to finish behind a little bit and let me win.' "
|Scott Dixon celebrates his sixth win of the season Saturday night after winning the Meijer Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway as Helio Castroneves ran out of fuel in the final turn.|
Dixon began the race on the pole with Vitor Meira on the outside. There were only three cautions in the race, but it took just over a lap for the first one to come out, when Will Power brushed the wall in turn two on the second lap.
Next came a long series of green laps, with Meira putting a strong challenge to Dixon. As the leaders made their way into lapped traffic on lap 44, Dixon moved inside as he and Meira came up on a slower car. Meira put his whole foot into the carburetor and sliced between Dixon and the slower car to take the lead going into the third turn.
"I think we were a little light at the beginning of the race but we were ahead," Meira said. "That offset it."
Green flag stops began on lap 50, and Milka Duno had the first of two embarrassing moments when she spun in the grass in the warm-up lane after being serviced. Duno was quick on the gas, however, to get back on the pavement, preventing a caution from being called.
Danica Patrick briefly took the lead, being slightly off sequence from the rest of the field, but eventually had to give it up on lap 54, the cycle being complete, putting Dixon back up front after his team won the duel of pit crews over Meira's.
For the next 24 laps, it was Dixon up front followed by teammate Dan Wheldon, Meira, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh. The race got more interesting following a yellow for debris on lap 81 as Andretti made a dash for second place at the halfway point of lap 100. Dixon guarded the bottom while Andretti stayed just one lane higher in second. Andretti made several challenges in the turns, but Dixon was faster coming out onto the straights.
"He's able to (drive) just flat out along the bottom of the race track," Andretti said. "You're not really going to overtake (him) if there's nobody really ahead of you."
"I think at that point, the shorter line was definitely the best way," Dixon said. "You might not have the momentum that the guys on the top side do, but I definitely passed, especially earlier on, a lot of traffic on the high side. Flat out, it was no problem. We had a great car that was very consistent and had a lot of grip. The track did a good job of making sure when they smoothed the track out, they did on all three lanes. The grip was pretty efficient throughout."
|Milka Duno had two embarrassing moments Saturday night, the first being this one where she spins in the warm-up lane after a pit stop and later on lap 134 when she slammed into the turn two wall.|
Tony Kanaan began to make a challenge by lap 110, moving into the fifth position. Up front, however, things were also changing, as Andretti dove around Dixon on lap 121 to lead the race. Andretti quickly began to pull away while Dixon fell back to third, suggesting a problem with the Target car.
"It didn't really bother me at the time," Dixon said calmly. "The team, the spotter definitely was jumping on the radio like, 'Keep going, keep going,' and we're flying. Sit back here and try to save a bit more fuel … We ended up going a lap or two longer than most people when we were going a full stint."
"We tried to play traffic as best we could," Andretti said. "I was turned down behind him trying to work with him to pull away. As soon as I saw slower traffic ahead, I went to position one and committed to the outside and held him low. Then, we were to overtake him twice. Obviously, it didn't pay off."
The final caution of the night came on Duno's second embarrassment when she blew a tire and slammed into the wall in turn two on lap 133. The leaders pit at that point, with Dixon getting out first ahead of Andretti. Kanaan moved up to third, with Meira fourth and Wheldon fifth.
The green flag was back out for good on lap 145 with Dixon in front followed by Andretti. Dixon went into another fuel conserving mode and dropped back to third behind Meira. Meira began a challenge on Andretti, and with 22 laps remaining, the leaders moved into lapped traffic again.
On lap 189 the final green flag pit stops began. Castroneves and his team, however, decided to roll the dice and stay on the track and move to the front while rest of field took on fuel.
"I'm in a championship battle you know," Castroneves said. "I was trying everything to keep him behind and they pitted right away. I was really saving a lot of fuel, like lifting up quiet a bit, just letting everybody pass. And then at one point, they are like, 'Listen, you've got to go because they have got to pass you."
Dixon said he and his crew had discussed the subject of some teams running fuel strategies during the race.
"They didn't mention Helio," Dixon said. "They said, 'You know, under yellow, wow, there's like three guys that are trying that strategy,' and we all knew what it was."
"I think we knew what he was doing," Dixon said of Castroneves. "When I tried to pass him, obviously he didn't want me to go by and ran me wide on one and two. The next time he tried to run me off the grass going down the back stretch. They were fighting me pretty hard, and I would be doing the same thing if I were in those conditions going for the win."
With five laps to go, Castroneves seemed to have things well in hand, leading by just over six seconds. Four laps later, however, as the white flag flew, Dixon had cut that deficit to just over a half-second. Castroneves still seemed destined to win going through turns one and two, the backstretch and turn three. In turn four, however, the car coughed and suddenly slowed. Dixon charged to take the lead with 200 yards to go. Castroneves coasted across in second place, with Andretti in third just a half-car length behind.
"I have to describe the bold feelings, that when I was going into turn three, I thought, 'I got it! I'm finally going to win this race, or a race," Castroneves said. "And all of a sudden I'm coming out of turn four, all of a sudden the car just coughed. My reaction at that time was like, 'No!' … I just want to finish the race as high as I could. As soon as I could, try to coast and lift it and make sure it kept collecting fuel."
"Couldn't have lifted a bit more?" Andretti joked.
"We thought we knew what they were up to," said Dixon, "but obviously not as quick as they were going to be and as close as it was for the last lap.
"It was a tough night. Definitely had a lot of fun racing with Marco. He was helping me out a lot there, and I kind of pressed down on the bottom with a lot of traffic throughout the night."
The win gave Dixon a 78-point lead over Castroneves toward the Indy Racing League championship.
"Obviously with a 78-point lead now, I think it's pretty healthy," Dixon said. "But as you can see tonight, anything can happen. Helio could quite easily have gained on us and made it more of a fight."
"It would be nice to gain a couple in Sonoma, and maybe we only need 82 points or something like that to have it sewn up by the end," Dixon said. "That would be nice, but in all reality, I think we'll be racing till the last race."
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