MADISON, Ill. (AP) — IndyCar ironman Scott Dixon capitalized on needing to make only three pit stops and kept his championship hopes alive in winning Sunday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500.
The victory was the 55th of Dixon’s career, and it came in his record-extending 320th consecutive start. He set the record two weeks ago at the Gallagher Grand Prix in Indianapolis.
“They’re all special, right?” Dixon said. “These last few races I think have been good on all fronts, right? We’ve had to cover all bases whether it was speed, strategy, consistency throughout, great pit stops.”
Dixon held the lead for 82 laps before making his final pit stop on lap 196. With all the cars on the lead lap having to pit after he made his final stop, the 43-year-old took the checkered flag, finishing more than 22 seconds ahead of second-place Pato O’Ward.
“He’s just Scott Dixon,” O’Ward said. “I feel like that’s what he’s best known for. He knows how to do it better than anybody with a great combination that he has with his team and car and everything. It’s a bummer that we weren’t even close to kind of even race him.”
The 22-second margin of victory broke Juan Pablo Montoya’s 23-year-old track record when he finished almost 12 seconds ahead of Patrick Carpentier at the Motorola 300 in 2000.
“Ross (Bunnell), the engineer, did an amazing job … and had a car that enabled me to kind of save the fuel that we needed,” Dixon said. “When I had 10 to go, I asked him, ‘How much heat are we getting from behind?’ They’re like, ‘It’s over 20 seconds, so just cruise it.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty sweet.’ It’s been a long time since I’ve had the race like that.”
Josef Newgarden started in the top spot with pole-sitter Scott McLaughlin serving a nine-position grid penalty and led 101 of the first 104 laps.
His quest to become the first IndyCar driver to win six consecutive races on ovals since A.J. Foyt in 1964 came to an end when his No. 2 Honda made contact with the wall in turn two on the 211th lap.
Newgarden had won three consecutive races at World Wide Technology Raceway and four overall at the track.
McLaughlin earned his fifth career IndyCar pole ahead of the race but started in the No. 10 position due to his penalty. He finished fifth.
McLaughlin is one of six drivers who were penalized for unapproved use of a fifth engine this season.
Qualifying was pushed back to Sunday morning after rain kept drivers off the track until 6 p.m. Saturday night.
CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Dixon’s victory pulled him to within 74 points of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and IndyCar leader Alex Palou with two races remaining. Dixon is Palou’s only challenger for the season title as Newgarden dropped to 125 points behind Palou falling out of championship contention.
“Going into the last few races, to only have a Ganassi driver able to win the championship is very cool and very, very good for this team and the amount of effort,” Dixon said.
Marcus Ericsson fell behind a lap after his left rear tire fell off on the pit road after not being properly secured during a pit stop on a caution on the 128th lap. Ericsson was competing in teammate Palou’s backup car after wrecking his primary car in a crash with Will Power during Saturday night’s practice.
Chip Ganassi Racing and points leader Palou were assessed a nine-position starting grid penalty for unapproved engine changes after Saturday’s practice. Teammates Dixon and Takuma Sato, McLaughlin, Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood and Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino were also penalized for unapproved changes after the Gallagher Grand Prix on Aug. 12.
Sunday’s race was the first on an oval course to use the Firestone Firehawk alternate tires constructed with a softer compound to allow for more grip at the cost of quicker tire wear. All drivers were required to start the race on the primary tires and run at least two laps on both sets of tires.
BACK BEHIND THE WHEEL
Conor Daly turned in the 15th best qualifying time of 50.0200 seconds in his first race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing. Daly replaced Jack Harvey, who was released after the Gallagher Grand Prix. Daly started three races for Meyer Shank Racing filling in for an injured Simon Pagenaud after being released by Ed Carpenter Racing after the Detroit Grand Prix.
The IndyCar series returns to action Sunday, Sept. 3, with the Bitnile.com Grand Prix of Portland. Both of the final two races will be held on road courses.