LEXINGTON, Ohio (AP) — Scott Dixon went from last in qualifying to capture his fifth win at Mid-Ohio in the last eight years, coasting in on low fuel to end Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s victory drought in 2014.
The 34-year-old New Zealand driver, who started last Sunday in the 22-car field, also won on the twisty road course between Cleveland and Columbus in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Target Chip Ganassi has won the last six races at the track, including Dixon’s last four triumphs. It finally broke through this season in a familiar place.
Dixon took advantage of a gaffe by Josef Newgarden and his pit crew to pull away.
Pole-sitter Sebastien Bourdais was a distant second, with James Hinchcliffe third, rookie Carlos Munoz fourth and favorite son Graham Rahal fifth.
Dixon led a total of 45 laps, strategically winning the pit-stop battle against the top contenders while capturing his 34th series win and first since Houston last October.
After qualifying last on Saturday, Dixon said, “Not the best qualifying we’ve had this year, I can tell you that. There just wasn’t any grip to be found out there. We’ll have to come up with a great strategy tomorrow to dig us out of this hole.”
That’s exactly what they did.
Will Power, second in the drivers’ standings coming in, took over the No. 1 spot when leader Helio Castroneves had throttle problems on a pace lap. Power finished sixth while Castroneves, who would end up with the fastest lap of the day, was 19th.
Bourdais, after winning his second pole of the season, maintained the lead for most of the opening 30 laps.
But there were surprises early.
Castroneves, who started 15th, had to pit on the parade lap due to a stuck throttle and was four laps behind when he finally took the track.
The race hadn’t had a single caution the last two years, but that didn’t last long. On the opening lap there was a mishap on the sharp turn called the keyhole that resulted in the noses getting knocked off the cars of Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan. There was a delay while the track was cleared.
Josef Newgarden, who qualified No. 2 behind Bourdais, slotted into the No. 2 spot early and stalked the leader. He pulled right behind Dixon, who took the lead was holding off while running low on fuel before his first stop, and the two jousted over the rolling hills.
Newgarden finally got the lead when Dixon pulled into pit row after 62 laps — 31 laps since his last stop.
But then the rest of the contenders had to grab fuel and the wily veteran took over. Newgarden fell back during a disastrous pit stop in which he drove over a hose and his crew stumbled filling the car with fuel and changing tires.
Newgarden finished 12th.
Dixon grabbed the lead and didn’t let go, pushing his lead to seven seconds over Bourdais through 70 laps. He preserved fuel and played keep-away with the lead the rest of the way in the 90-lap race.
Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was penalized for speeding in the pit area after his initial pit stop and he dropped out of the top 10 when he had to return to pit row. He would later spin out because of a surplus of speed in turn 11 and would drop from 10th to 18th place. He rallied to end up 10th.
Heavy fog set the day’s festivities back 50 minutes, but bright sunshine and a blue sky greeted the racers. A thunderstorm had created havoc on Saturday during qualifying.