Although Scott Dixon led 145 of the 248 laps Saturday night at Gateway, Will Power and Team Penske’s decision to go flat-out was the winning call, as the team brought the No. 12 Chevy in with 17 laps to go for a splash-and-go that beat a fuel-saving Alexander Rossi and Dixon and kept Power’s championship hopes alive.
“I was seeing the numbers I had to try to get and I was like, man, everyone’s gonna have to go very slow to get it, and I thought we should go and Roger said go, so we did,” said Power, who earned his third win of 2018.
“I was just like, ‘Come on. Let’s race this properly,’ and I was so stoked when they said let’s just go hard. ‘Cause we were able to get by people before that and, so much fun, we could just go wide open. I hate fuel saving.”
Andretti Autosport made the opposite call for Alexander Rossi, who had followed Dixon and Power in the top four all night until a caution came out for teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay on Lap 173. When the team opted for fuel-save mode to try and make the race in three stops, Rossi felt a bit of déjà vu from his 2016 Indy 500 run, but he held on to finish second and nurse his Honda 71 laps to the finish.
“It was tougher than Indy,” Rossi said. “It was huge ask when Rob [Edwards] came over the radio and was like, make this fuel number and I was like, here we go again. I couldn’t have done it without a great NAPA Andretti Honda. I don’t know that we had enough for Will even if it was a flat-out race to the finish, but the important thing is we beat Scott and closed the [championship] gap a little bit.”
The first caution of the race came on first lap, as Sebastien Bourdais got loose and hit the wall as he tried to weave through traffic in Turn 2.
“It felt like we got pushed by the air,” Bourdais said. “The car kinda started to make a slow rear slide, and I didn’t really know if I got touched or anything, I have no idea.”
Even as he encountered traffic, Dixon held his lead for most of the race, including after green flag pit cycles. On Lap 119 Power made a move on the outside of the front straight to try and grab the lead, but he ran too high into the gray and fell back to sixth before a cycle of green-flag pit stops.
“We had a great car, I was able to pass people,” Power noted. “I was kinda mad at Dixon because he pushed me up in the marbles so it gave me extra motivation to get him back and try to get to the front.”
On Lap 150 he did just that, jumping Dixon as he was slowed by traffic and building a lead of four seconds.
When he came in on Lap 231 for his final stop, Power came out behind Rossi but could run wide open — so between Rossi’s fuel save and Dixon needing to pit one more time, Power took the lead for good with eight laps to go.
“I think early on we were probably burning too much fuel, which I didn’t think was going to be the case,” Dixon said. “But when we pitted fairly early compared to some of our competitors, obviously that didn’t make any difference for me at that reset with 70 or whatever to go. I don’t even know how many it was to go. A lot. And then it was kind of split strategy to save the fuel or to go. And then for us, actually — and I’ll take the blame for it — we kind of sat in no-man’s land doing halfway of each trying to make a decision of where we were going.
“Ultimately, we lost a ton of time to the 12, and then by the time we did get after it, it made that strategy maybe not so perfect. Andretti guys and Rossi did a fantastic job making that no-stop situation work.”
Hunter-Reay brought out the caution on Lap 173 when his engine shut off, marking another frustrating DNF for the No. 28 Honda.
“All of a sudden it just died as I was coming out of 4,” he said. “It’s a real shame. We had been making the car better and better. We were marching forward…what can I say.”
Simon Pagenaud’s solid run resulted in a fourth-place finish, and Zach Veach earned his career-best IndyCar oval finish in fifth. Rounding out the top 10 were Spencer Pigot, Josef Newgarden, Ed Jones and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan pair of Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal.
Dixon’s points lead is now 26 over Rossi — he clinched points tonight for leading the most laps — and 68 to Power. Josef Newgarden, who finished seventh, drops a spot to fourth in the championship.
Just before the race, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced that Robert Wickens is breathing without medical assistance and speaking with his family as he continues to be treated for the injuries he suffered last week at Pocono.