LONG POND — As good as Scott Dixon was late in the Pocono IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco on Sunday afternoon, luck was also on his side. And working against some of his top competitors.
No matter, Dixon will take the victory as Indy car racing returned to Pocono Raceway for the first time since 1989.
“Going into this morning, I was not thinking we could win,” Dixon said. “The team definitely hasn’t given up. You got to hand it to Honda as well. I think fuel mileage was a big key today. And we still had speed out front.”
Ah, fuel mileage — the downfall of pole winner and hometown favorite Marco Andretti. Andretti led the most laps — 88 of 160 — but he and his team could never nail down the fuel problems. He ended up 10th in his Chevrolet, yet another disappointing finish in a season full of disappointments.
“It was ripping my guts out,” Andretti said of seeing his leads continually go away. He ran out of fuel after the final lap.
Andretti wasn’t the only driver leaving Pocono with a sick feeling.
• James Hinchcliffe, who came into the race with a series-high three victories, didn’t even complete a lap. He spun his No. 25 Chevrolet in turn one and the extensive damage ended his day.
• Ryan Hunter-Reay, second in points entering the race, got involved in a pit-road accident on lap 62. Hunter-Reay was slowing down as he entered the pits, but Takuma Sato wasn’t. Sato ran into Hunter-Reay, who later returned to the race 20-plus laps down.
• Tony Kanaan was strong throughout the first half of the race, but ran into trouble on lap 107. He passed Dixon for the lead in turn one, but clipped Dixon’s car with his front wing. After repairs, he fell out of the top 10 and off the lead lap with 19 laps remaining.
The steady chain of misfortune allowed Chip Ganassi Racing to sweep the podium. Charlie Kimball finished second and Dario Franchitti was third.
“We came in here this morning from late last night in Daytona,” said Ganassi, who is also a NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner. “I had no idea we’d finish one, two, three. It’s been a struggle for a decent finish. I’d like to thank everybody on this team for pulling this off.”
Dixon was the most thankful. Winless since the Mid-Ohio race last season, the checkered flag was a welcomed sight.
“It’s been a long drought, almost a year,” Dixon said. “So it’s fantastic to be back in the winner’s circle.”
Not that Kimball and Franchitti were going to just watch the rear of Dixon’s No. 9 Honda. They tried, but couldn’t challenge Dixon in the final laps.
“We just couldn’t get close enough to make something happen,” Franchitti said.
“We were all trying to pass each other for the next spot,” Kimball said, “but not jeopardize the 1-2-3. We wanted to get the boat turned around and headed in the right direction.”
Dixon didn’t appear heading anywhere after starting 17th. The race appeared Andretti’s for the taking. The native of nearby Nazareth was dominant early on, with Hunter-Reay and Kanaan poking around up front. Even point leader Helio Castroneves looked like he would challenge for awhile.
Dixon, though, started making inroads with about 40 laps remaining as he battled then-leader Will Power for the top spot. He caught Power on lap 139 — leading only his second lap of the season. The other came at the Indianapolis 500.
The rest of the race was all Dixon as he beat Kimball to the finish line by 0.4572 seconds. Power finished fourth and Josef Newgarden was fifth.
“When you get in these tough moments, you think ‘Yeah, maybe I won’t win another race,’” Dixon said. “When you’re with a good team and had a good track record before, you try to work things out and make sure you get back in the groove of things.”