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Dixon Makes It Look Easy While Winning At Watkins Glen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 4 2016
Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing blitzed the field at Watkins Glen on Sundah. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing blitzed the field at Watkins Glen on Sunday. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Scott Dixon was magical, magnificent and The Man Sunday afternoon at Watkins Glen International…and that was it for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.

bugindycarCompleting a weekend during which he led all three practices, qualified on-pole in record-setting style and paced Sunday morning’s warmup session, Dixon blitzed WGI’s repaved 3.37-mile/11-turn circuit en route to a massive 16.5308-second victory over Josef Newgarden.

Dixon led 50 of 60 laps on the natural-terrain layout and ripped off the race’s fastest leader lap at 143.535 mph, leaving him to wonder how he didn’t bag the event’s fastest lap.

“I think TK (Tony Kanaan) actually got fast lap in the race (144.526 mph), which is one thing I didn’t get. I’ll talk to him about that later,” Dixon joked during his post-race press conference, moments after runnerup Newgarden and third-place Helio Castroneves confirmed they had spent the afternoon hustling for “best of the rest” honors.

Dixon _ winner of the first three Verizon IndyCar Series races here from 2005-07 _ scored his fourth victory in seven starts at the famed Finger Lakes facility, second of the season and 40th of his stellar career. The four-time/reigning series champion, Dixon now sits fourth on domestic open-wheel’s all-time wins list, breaking out of a tie with Al Unser Sr. Next up is Michael Andretti ‘s 42 wins.

Asked if this ranked as the most dominant start-to-finish weekend of his 16-year career, Dixon mused, “It’s probably close to it, yeah. I think for a road course…I know we’ve had some dominant weekends like this at ovals. Kansas (Speedway) I think rings a bell back in the day where the team had a very dominant streak going, and Mid-Ohio (Sports Car Course) we’ve had something close to that. But I think to lead all three practices, warmup, qualifying on the pole and then win the race…

It was definitely a very dominant weekend. But I think when you’re in those weekends, too, your mind is just running crazy with possibilities and things that could go wrong, especially in the race. Yeah, I don’t know. I think we should race here more.”

Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, notched the 102nd Indy car win for team-owner Ganassi and its fourth at The Glen, tying Team Penske for most series wins at the track. Dixon also now has led 4,899 laps during his career, moving ahead of Bobby Unser into sixth on that all-time chart.

Meanwhile, the championship battle between Team Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud and runnerup Will Power took a dramatic turn when the latter crashed -out on the backstretch exiting the track’s signature Esses curves on Lap 39 following contact initiated by Charlie Kimball of Ganassi Racing. Power, who missed the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., with an inner-ear infection, was checked and released from the infield care center but not cleared to drive pending further evaluation of concussion-like symptoms. INDYCAR and team officials said Power, the 2014 series champion, will be re-evaluated Tuesday in North Carolina.

“We caught a bad break and mixed it up with Kimball a little and had no chance after that,” said Power, who has been placed in INDYCAR Medical’s concussion protocol. “I feel fine. The doctors tell me that we’ll do some tests in the next day or so and go from there. I don’t really have much to say beyond that.”

Pagenaud, who began the day with a 28-point lead, soldiered home to a seventh-place finish while Power placed 20th in the 22-car field. Those circumstances gave Pagenaud a 43-point lead (555-512) heading into the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in California to decide the title on Sept. 18. Although the race will offer double points, only Pagenaud and Power are eligible for the championship.

“It was a pretty eventful day,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet. “The last caution made it so the guys in front had to save a lot of fuel, and we didn’t save enough at the start of the stint and were very slow. We made it back in seventh and, for the championship, the day was very good. We collected a lot of points and we have a bit of a cushion going into Sonoma. We still have to race hard, but it’s going to be a lot more comfortable.”

The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend runs from Sept. 16-18. NBC Sports Network will blanket the weekend with live coverage of the second practice session on Friday, Sept. 16, at 5 p.m. (EDT), Verizon P1 Award qualifying on Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. and the 85-lap race from Sonoma Raceway in Northern California beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 18.

Dixon was joined on the leader-board by five drivers, none of whom led more than Carlos Munoz’s three laps for Andretti Autosport. Newgarden failed to lead a lap on a day when he said he had “a great car” in the race.

“Wasn’t as good as Scott’s,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing. “I think he was just clearly ahead of everyone this weekend, but I really think we were a solid top-five car, not considering how the yellows fell or anything like that.”

Newgarden was, in fact, running third behind Dixon and James Hinchcliffe at the start of the final lap of the 60-lapper when Hinch’s Honda ran out of fuel and coasted to a stop.

“It was a frustrating end to a frustrating weekend,” said Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. “I was meeting fuel numbers during the last stint and I could easily have saved more at the end, but I lost the radio on the last lap. I was just cruising because I didn’t know if I needed to save more or not. Either way, I have to give credit to the No. 5 crew because the pit stops were on-point today and they did what they needed to do. The car had the speed all weekend and hopefully we’ll be able to carry that over to Sonoma.”

Newgarden, in turn, said he didn’t start the day thinking podium. “Not to sound like I was pessimistic going into it, but we just didn’t have a smooth weekend,” Newgarden said. “I came into the weekend thinking we could win here after we had our test (in mid-August). We were very fast at the test, felt really good about things with the whole team. The weekend started going along, and on Friday we were kind of around sixth, seventh, eighth. We were just in that top-10 region and it just wasn’t enough. Scott clearly had a pretty big edge on anyone this weekend for the most part.”

Castroneves led two laps in his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet to post his first career podium finish here. “Unfortunately the win _ it was a little bit far to go unless something would have happened with the No. 9 (Dixon), but he was over the weekend in a league of his own,” Castroneves said. “Good job for them, and right now we’re still in the championship top-four. I don’t think we have a chance for Sonoma, but the good news is Team Penske is very close to sealing the deal.”

Castroneves’ result was especially impressive considering he was running second to Dixon by 2.2327-seconds as late as Lap 55 when he dove into the pits for a splash of fuel on Lap 57. That allowed Dixon’s lead to grow to 15.1679-seconds over Hinchcliffe on Lap 58 and by 18.1507-seconds on the white flag lap. And then Hinch ran out of fuel, relegating the Canadian to an 18th-place finish.

Dixon, who made his final pit stop on Lap 41, stretched his load of Sunoco E85R ethanol over the final 19 laps/64.03 miles. Dixon re-took the point on the Lap 42 restart in fourth place behind Munoz, Takuma Sato of A.J. Foyt Racing and Marco Andretti  of Andretti Autosport _ each electing not to pit under the caution but forced to do so within the next seven laps.

The caution for Power’s incident clearly forced the leaders to stretch their fuel consumption, and Dixon saved just enough to score maximum points in the season’s penultimate race. Dixon moved to third in the point standings, 104 behind Pagenaud, but not enough to remain in the championship hunt.

Castroneves passed rookie Conor Daly, driver of the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Honda, who also ran out of fuel but coasted home in fourth. Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet, rounded out a top-five made up of five different teams.

Dixon, 36, capped his celebration by announcing that he would donate his $40,000 winnings to the Justin Wilson Children’s Fund in support of the family of the late Indy car driver. Wilson, the popular Englishman who gave Dale Coyne Racing its first IndyCar Series victory here in 2009, died from head injuries suffered at Pocono Raceway in August 2015.

“I just love being back here,” said Dixon, as the series marked its return to WGI for the first time since 2010. “I think we should have a double-points race here and probably race two or three times (a season) at The Glen.

“These are the weekends that you definitely don’t forget, just in the sheer fact of we had such a smooth one. The car was just fantastic and the track, I love. I love coming to Upstate New York and this track is one of the old-school, great American tracks that we’re lucky enough to come back here and race.”

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Results Sunday of the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 3.37-mile Watkins Glen International, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero-kit engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 60, Running
2. (12) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 60, Running
3. (4) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 60, Running
4. (17) Conor Daly, Honda, 60, Running
5. (3) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 60, Running
6. (14) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 60, Running
7. (7) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 60, Running
8. (15) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
9. (11) RC Enerson, Honda, 60, Running
10. (6) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 60, Running
11. (16) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 60, Running
12. (18) Marco Andretti, Honda, 60, Running
13. (8) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 60, Running
14. (19) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 60, Running
15. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 60, Running
16. (9) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 60, Running
17. (22) Takuma Sato, Honda, 60, Running
18. (13) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 59, Running
19. (5) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 59, Running
20. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 38, Contact
21. (20) Graham Rahal, Honda, 19, Contact
22. (10) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 14, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 119.334
Time of Race: 1:41:39.8592
Margin of victory: 16.5308 seconds
Cautions: 3 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 8 among six drivers

Lap Leaders:
Dixon 1-13
Power 14-15
Dixon 16-30
Montoya 31
Hinchcliffe 32-33
Castroneves 34-35
Dixon 36-40
Munoz 41-43
Dixon 44-60

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Pagenaud 555, Power 512, Dixon 451, Castroneves 451, Newgarden 446, Kanaan 427, Rahal 403, Munoz 402, Kimball 389, Hinchcliffe 380

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 4 2016
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