Scott Dixon parlayed perfect pace, pit stops and strategy Saturday to score his first victory of 2018 and vault right into the championship picture.
In scoring the 42nd win of his career and tying Michael Andretti for third on the all-time list, Dixon led 39 of 70 laps in his PNC Honda and held off Ryan Hunter-Reay by 1.8 seconds in the opener of the Dual at Detroit around Belle Isle.
Starting second, Dixon stalked polesitter Marco Andretti for the first 23 laps but stayed out one lap longer to make his initial pit stop and his Chip Ganassi crew gave him fabulous service and he leapfrogged Andretti. That gave the 37-year-old veteran track position and he made his two-stop strategy work against Hunter-Reay’s three stops.
“It was nice to get that first win of the season and that was big getting around Marco on that first stop and my pit stop was fantastic,” said Dixon, who moved into second in the Verizon standings — only four points behind leader Alexander Rossi and three ahead of Indy winner Will Power.
Hunter-Reay started fifth in the DHL Honda, pitted early and led seven laps during pit exchanges but just didn’t have quite enough to get the win.
“We had good strategy and a good race car we just came up a bit short,” he said.
After contact from Charlie Kimball sent rookie Santino Ferrucci hard into the tire barrier on Lap 55, the final restart came with 10 laps to go and all the front-runners lined up nose-to-tail around the 2.53-mile circuit. And while Rossi was able to pass Marco Andretti for third, Hunter-Reay didn’t have anything for Dixon.
“I had good pace though Turns 1-2-3-4 and thought that might be my chance if he made a mistake but that’s Scott Dixon.”
Coming off a second and third at the two IMS races last month, Dixon has now won races in 14 consecutive seasons for Ganassi.
Rossi, now with three podiums and one win, drove his usual aggressive pace and gave Andretti Autosport two of the three podium places in his Ruoff Honda.
“I wasn’t able to ever get a clear track when I had new tires so that was a little frustrating, but at the end I didn’t have anything for those first two and it was a good day for Andretti Autosport,” said Rossi.
Andretti, who started on the pole and never made a mistake, wound up fourth as Honda swept the first six spots. Power was the highest-finishing Chevrolet in seventh.
Graham Rahal, who swept both races a year ago, took the green flag from eighth and was the only driver to start on blacks but made his strategy work as he led two laps and ran a strong second before pounding the wall on Lap 48 in his United Rental Honda.