Sunday, June 28, 2009
IndyCar Drivers Apologize For Richmond
((HT: Richmond Times-Dispatch/Paulk))
Scott Dixon can thank Helio Castroneves for his good fortune -- and his second SunTrust Indy Challenge victory last night at Richmond International Raceway ((pictured, thanks Richmond Times-Dispatch/Alexa Welch Edlund)).
Dixon, whose 19th career Indy Racing League win ties him with Sam Hornish Jr. for the most, led the final 161 laps for his first victory at RIR since 2003. Dixon took the checkered flag nearly a half-second ahead of his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, pole-sitter Dario Franchitti.
"Richmond is a place I've wanted to win at again for quite some time," Dixon said. "To come through and get the points when we need them and have such a great day points-wise over the Penske two [Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe] was very, very big."
Still, a victorious Dixon was apologetic afterward for a race that lacked any semblance of a climatic finish. It was a battle of fuel instead of wits and speed.
"Once you got to lapped traffic it was very hard to pass," said Dixon, winning with an average speed of 124.952 mph. "It was a frustrating night, but it was a big night for us."
Franchitti, though, moved atop the IndyCar Series points standing with his second-place finish. Briscoe entered the race as the points leader, but a crash on Lap 28 sent him spiraling from the top spot.
However, it was a Castroneves crash just 52 laps from the finish that altered the fate of Dixon and Andretti Green Racing teammates, Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick, who finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
With 55 laps to go, Patrick was feeling good about her chances of winning a second IndyCar Series race.
Patrick and Mutoh were seemingly in perfect position to battle for the checkered flag after plotting a pit and fuel strategy that would put them far ahead of their nearest pursuers during the waning laps.
Mutoh and Patrick pitted on Laps 214 and 225, respectively. And while they were shuffled to the back of the pack, Dixon and Franchitti stayed on the racetrack, flirting with a rapidly shutting fuel window.
Clearly, it was advantage Mutoh and Patrick.
Then, as Castroneves violently slammed his No. 3 Honda-Dallara into the wall on the back straightaway on Lap 248, Patrick and Mutoh were victims of bad timing and bad luck.
"We wanted to come back strong after a poor qualifying effort," said Patrick, registering her fifth top-five finish this season. "We got another top-five, but I'm itching for a win."
Castroneves appeared poised to make a run as Dixon and Franchitti gambled with their fuel. But the Indianapolis 500 winner suffered the same fate as Briscoe as he lost control halfway down the back straightaway.
"Things were going real good, but the guy in front of me slowed down very much, and I did not have anywhere to go," Castroneves said. "I avoided him, but unfortunately I ended up in the wall."
Castroneves' crash, and the subsequent caution, enabled Dixon and Franchitti to maintain their lead. They both pitted under caution for fuel on Lap 250. Dixon got ahead of the lead pack, including Franchitti and third-place Graham Rahal, and was never challenged following the Lap 260 restart.
Again, Ganassi Racing, as it did last weekend in Iowa, benefited from a Castroneves mishap. Dixon, winning for the third time this season, kept a frustrated Franchitti at bay over the last 40 laps.
"My mistake was trying to use too much fuel capacity. Ultimately, that hurt us when we had to pit," Franchitti said. "When Scott got ahead we were pushing like hell to catch him, but we couldn't get it done."
"It was a track-position race. To a degree, it became a fuel race. We were hanging on all night. Everyone was pushing, but we couldn't get close enough to make any passes."
This, of course, was supposed to be a duel between the series' two dominant teams -- Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. Their drivers -- Castroneves, Briscoe, Dixon and Franchitti -- had won seven of the first eight races.
"Anytime you can make a gain on the Penske, you have to take that run with it," Dixon said. "It's not often they make the mistakes they made tonight. We've had some bad runs at the start of the year . . . but tonight was a big gain for us, and could be a pivotal point in the season.
"I felt bad for Dario because he couldn't save enough fuel. But that's what a lot of racing has become this season. I'll complain as much as the next person as to what we have to fix. We have to remember we're here to put on a show for the fans."
Dixon, the defending IRL champion, assumed the lead after Mike Conway brought out the third caution flag by spinning out on the front straightaway. The Ganassi teammates toured the three-quarter-mile short track almost effortlessly following the Lap 155 restart.
Jamie Scavotto has the highlights and honest postgame from the Richmond race