INDYCAR SERIES Honda 200 at Mid-OhioFinal
Dixon wins Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio for third straight victoryJul 22, 2007 - 10:49 PM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor
STEAM CORNERS, Ohio (Ticker) If Dario Franchitti didn't hear Scott Dixon coming before Sunday's IndyCar Honda 200, he can definitely hear him closing in now.
Dixon won his third straight IndyCar race, joining Kenny Brack in 1998 and Dan Wheldon in 2005 as the only drivers to score three straight victories in the IndyCar Series.
The Auckland, New Zealand driver's latest win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has tightened the IndyCar point standings as Dixon now trails Franchitti by 24 points with five races to go.
Franchitti's lead was 65 points before Dixon scored the first of his three in a row at Watkins Glen International on July 8. When Dixon won his second-straight at Nashville last week, his deficit was cut to 34.
The 2003 IndyCar Series champion was able to trim another 10 points off Franchitti's lead when Dixon defeated Franchitti by 2.6917-seconds in Sunday's open-wheel racing return to the Mid-Ohio course for the first time since Champ Car raced here in 2003.
Now that Dixon has replaced Franchitti as IndyCar's hottest driver, he is thinking of what it will take to claim the 2007 championship that appeared to be firmly in Franchitti's grasp just a few short weeks ago.
"The last race we won, I brought up I'd be a lot more comfortable if we were racing my teammate (Dan Wheldon) or Sam Hornish Jr. for the championship with the amount of road courses left," Dixon said. "Unfortunately, Dario is very fast on all of them. He's been consistently on the podium when we've won. It's been very tough to try to close that gap.
"But with the streak, I hope it is a true race to the finish, not a silly accident or mechanical problem that one of us has."
Franchitti's second-place finish allows him to stay ahead of Dixon, but this year's Indianapolis 500 winner is seeing his once-large lead get whittled away despite finishing his 11th-straight race with a fifth-place finish or better.
"The problem we've got right now is we're looking for perfection," said Franchitti, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland. "The guys with Dixon's car, including Scott himself, are doing a hell of a job.
"We need perfection. I'm being critical of myself and my guys but we need that perfection in order to win the championship."
Dixon's victory earned him a check for $123,400 and a large crowd at Mid-Ohio welcomed open-wheel racing's return to the historic road course.
Pole-sitter Helio Castroneves was third after leading twice for 37 laps, the most of any driver in the race. Dixon led four times for 29 laps.
Tony Kanaan ran into teammates Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti at the start of the race, sending Andretti's car upside-down and out of the race. Kanaan finished fourth, followed by Patrick.
Andretti finished last in the 18-car field and was uninjured in the lazy flip.
"We all can't fit through there," Andretti said after being released from the medical center. "It's a bummer when people act that way on starts and things just get crazy. This isn't the first time. I tried the outside and that was not going to work because I thought Danica was off the track so I wanted to get all the way over to the right to avoid contact.
"We had a winning car. It is unfortunate."
Both Kanaan and Patrick were frustrated at the turn of events that took out Andretti and hampered their own chances at racing for the victory.
"There was nothing I could do," Kanaan lamented. "Danica appeared to be sliding. She had a loose moment in front of me. I hit the brakes to avoid her and spun. Unfortunately, I took Marco out in the process. I felt so bad for Marco because he had nothing to do with it.
"Actually, Marco turned me back straight and then he rolled over."
Patrick blamed the incident on pole-sitter Castroneves and how he started the race.
"Helio really jumped the start pretty well," Patrick explained. "He gunned it out of the last corner and never looked back when they threw the green. We approached the first corner flat out."
Patrick was able to make up positions through pit stops and by picking a few off on the track to score another top five.
Castroneves thought he had a legitimate start and shouldn't be blamed for tricking Patrick, who started on the outside of the front row.
"As soon as we did the keyhole (a part of the course leading to the start) I started waiting for Danica and then I went for it," Castroneves said. "She kind of fell back just half a car. My car was really good in the straightaway and I started to pull away. When I looked in my mirrors, I saw Tony and here. I think they tangled. It was too fast. After that I just kept going and I didn't see much of what happened."
It was actually the race winner who had a clear view of the incident in front of him as Dixon started sixth.
"I could tell with Helio being on pole that it was just about going to start the lap before the start," Dixon said. "He always goes so early. I think he kind of (messed up) Danica there, to be honest, because the pace car pulled to the left and he went as soon as the pace car went. So she had nowhere to go.
"She had to wait an extra few seconds before the pace car actually pulled off and our line was already strung out."
Castroneves would lead the field through the first 28 laps before pitting and giving up the lead to Dixon. Kanaan was able to use a different pit strategy to get back to the front and lead twice for 13 laps.
But as the race entered the final round of pit stops, Dixon was able to get a spectacular stop. Franchitti pitted with nine laps to go and thought his stop would give him the lead but he was stunned to discover Dixon was the leader when he returned to the track.
"We didn't pit for tires and we really thought we might gain some advantage by doing that," Franchitti said. "It didn't work out. We came out and we were still two or three seconds behind Scott. I'd love to know how that happened.
"I'll have to take a look."
Dixon's crew used a timed pit stop, putting in four-seconds of fuel to make it to the finish. It was the right strategy for victory.
"The biggest problem for us today was there were so many strategies," Dixon said. "We had to keep our eye on Helio, we had to keep our eye on TK (Kanaan), who was way out of synch, and also Dario, who was the tough one at end because he kept running, he kept going.
"Luckily, there wasn't a caution at the last few laps which would have made it a lot easier for Dario."
Instead, Dixon's charge it making it tough on Franchitti as it appears these two drivers will continue the fight for the 2007 IndyCar championship when the series resumes at Michigan International Speedway on August 5.
"The team is definitely on a roll," Dixon said. "Everybody is full of confidence. Your decisions come a bit quicker and I think that's definitely the key behind it. There's not one or two things that changed that make any difference for how we've picked up these wins, it's just everybody is working together.
"But it's getting frustrating that Dario is right there with us. I said to (team owner) Chip Ganassi and (managing director) Mike Hull and they said, 'well at least he's not in front of us.'"
And Dixon promises to continue that trend.
"We're applying as much pressure as possible," Dixon said. "We're closing the gap. Three races ago we were 65 behind, now we're 24.
"If we keep going at that rate, it's going to be good."
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