Problems in the pits for Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal opened the door for Scott Dixon, and he closed the deal again Saturday at Road America by winning his third consecutive 2020 IndyCar race.
Dixon parlayed a fast final pit stop and his usual iceman pace into the 49th victory of his illustrious career, remaining undefeated this season in his PNC Honda.
“I don’t know how to act because we didn’t qualify well and the car was difficult to drive. But this team covers all the bases,” said the 39-year-old Kiwi as he was being congratulated by owner Chip Ganassi. “We came out of the pits after our second stop and they said, ‘You and Will are 1-2’ … and I said, ‘How?!’
“It was another great team effort, and it was cool to be back racing in front of fans.”
The Elkhart Lake crowd looked stout and was the first public gathering of the season for IndyCar in light of the coronavirus lockdowns. The fans were treated to one of the great opening laps in recent history and some good hard racing all day.
The tone of this race changed early on. After pole-sitter Josef Newgarden led the first 14 laps, Graham Rahal moved into first by staying out one lap longer, and it appeared he might be able to retain with the undercut on JoNew. But the RLL team had a problem getting the fuel to flow, and Rahal fell to 11th and out of a chance to win.
That left Newgarden with a 10-second advantage over Santino Ferrucci and it was looking very much like he might repeat his 2018 triumph here until suffering a disastrous second pit stop. He stalled his PPG Chevy and by the time it re-fired, he was back to 10th and out of the hunt.
Power had muscled his way around Dixon for what turned out to be the lead on Lap 36 in Turn 6 before the first full-course yellow waved on Lap 40 when Jack Harvey lost the brakes on his Meyer Shank Honda and wound up in the Turn 1 sand trap.
When everyone pitted under caution on Lap 41, Power’s crew had just a small hiccup on the right-rear air jack, and that allowed Dixon to get out first.
That’s where he stayed for the final 15 laps.
“Not sure what happened on that last stop, but we’ve got to execute better,” said Power, who was leading the Indy GP a week before in his Penske Chevy and stalled on his initial pit stop. “I think we had Dixon covered, so it’s shame.”
The drive of the day came from rookie Alex Palou as he charged from 14th to third and took the podium away from Ryan Hunter-Reay with a ballsy, outside pass in Turn 1 on the final restart on Lap 47 of the 55-lap opener of a doubleheader at the scenic road course.
“Everything felt good; I just need more time and more practice,” said the 23-year-old Spaniard who is driving for Dale Coyne.
RHR held onto his loose car to bring it home fourth, while Colton Herta finished fifth. Ferrucci recovered from a pit incident to take sixth and Rahal battled back to take seventh.
Newgarden had to make a late pit stop for flat-spotted tires and was forced to settle for 17th after crawling back into the Top 10.