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Scott Dixon - Photo by Steve Burzynski, Bronco's Pitstop
Scott Dixon - Photo by Steve Burzynski, Bronco's Pitstop
May 31st 2009 - BY:  MARK W. THEISEN

     WEST ALLIS, WISCONSIN   May 31, 2009:     Scott Dixon has won it all:  the Indianapolis 500, the Indy Racing League championship and big races all over the country but was never more jubilant in a victory lane as he was today following his tough win over defending race champion Ryan Briscoe in the Indy Racing League’s ABC Supply/AJ Foyt 225 at the legendary Milwaukee Mile inside Wisconsin State Fair Park.

     “When you when a win a race here, you’ve know you’ve earned it,” said a beaming Dixon.  “From crashing two cars in the span of four laps in my debut here in 2005, I have set a goal to conquer this place and today we did it.”

     And the conquering was not easy, it never is at any track but throw in the tightness of the Milwaukee track and the closeness of the entire Indy Racing League and you have the mixture of an exciting race and the nice crowd on hand this afternoon was treated to yet another strategy filled and entertaining race.

     Briscoe, who turned his racing career around a year ago here with a win, put his Penske Racing Dallara on the pole on Saturday afternoon with a speed of 168.394 miles per hour while his teammate and the winner of last week’s Indianapolis 500 Helio Castroneves did not fair as well crashing on his qualifying lap to relegate him to the final starting spot on the grid for today’s race, a foreboding start to the weekend that unfortunately would not improve for the driver that entered the weekend as the 2009 Indy Racing League point leader.

     It was Tony Kanaan, the winner here in 2006 and 2007, which surprised both front starters, Briscoe and Graham Rahal to shoot past both of them going down the back stretch on the first lap to lead the 20 car field at the conclusion of the first lap.

     Kanaan led the first 25 laps of the race before surrendering the lead to Briscoe as the handling began to go away on his Andretti-Green owned race car.  Add the handling woes to the injuries that Kanaan suffered last Sunday in a hard crash at Indianapolis and you had the element for a long day, but Kanaan shouldered on for 62 more laps before mechanical woes put him out of the race.

     As was the case last week at Indy, the car in front faired better in clean air, but with the track being only a mile in length versus two and half miles last week the clean air was a much more precious commodity here as lapped cars continuously impeded the lead cars all race long.

     When Briscoe took the lead he brought Dixon and Rahal along with him to the front in the same pass.  Dario Franchitti, Hideki Mutoh, and Danica Patrick were the next to get around Kanaan as the first round of green flag pit stops were approaching.

     But that would not happen as rookie Mike Conway, in an effort to allow Dan Wheldon to pass him, slid up in the tire “marbles” and hit the wall exiting turn four to bring out the first yellow of the race.

     Just prior to the caution an interesting scenario was unfolding on the track as Briscoe was closing in on Castroneves and that pass would have put his teammate a lap down on the leaders but with the yellow that dilemma was postponed until later in the race.

     Briscoe entered and left the pits as the leader followed by Dixon, Franchitti, Rahal, Mutoh and Patrick and once under green it was Briscoe again in control but never really shaking the Target-Ganassi Racing tandem of Dixon and Franchitti.

     By lap 105 Briscoe was again closing in on Castroneves but this time with his lead being challenged he had no choice but to lap his struggling teammate just to hold on to the lead.  Once he was a lap down Castroneves became a blocker for Briscoe as he held up the both Dixon and Franchitti for several laps while Briscoe moved to his largest lead of the race.

     The first round of green flag pit stops began on lap 127 and the leaders began making their stops on lap 132 with first Franchitti, than Rahal, Patrick and Mutoh stopping for fuel and tires.  Briscoe surrendered the lead on lap 132 when he made his stop with Dixon following a lap later.  When all the stops were done it was Franchitti in front, his team making up for a dismal pip performance at Indianapolis last week that, in all likelihood, cost them the race, with Briscoe, Dixon, Rahal, Raphael Matos, Mutoh and Wheldon following.  Patrick’s team made handling changes to her car that put here back to 8th after the green flag stops were completed.

     Strategy began to form as speculation that some cars could make it to the end without stopping again but that all went out the window on lap 160 when the yellow was thrown for an excessive build up of tire “marbles” in the corners that posed a treat for cars trying to get out of the way of leaders.  The yellow allowed the sweepers to clean the track and all cars to the pits for fuel and tires that would take them to the finish without another stop.

     Castroneves elected not to make a pit stop and was thus waived around the pace car on the restart to get back on the lead lap, albeit, at the end of it.

     Briscoe had taken the lead from Franchitti just prior to the caution and was first out of the pits after the stops followed by Dixon,  Franchitti, Rahal, Matos, Patrick and Marco Andretti.

     On the restart it was Andretti on the move moving quickly to fifth only to begin to fall back as the handling quickly went away on his car.

     For the next 40 laps Dixon looked for an opening as he shadowed Briscoe’s every move only to have the leader successfully block his every attempt as they weaved their way through the heavy amount of lapped traffic.

     Dixon saw an opportunity on lap 200 when the lapped car of Tomas Scheckter was severely holding up Briscoe’s attempt to get by.  Dixon made a move down the back straight and was ahead by the third turn forcing Briscoe to back off or crash and once in the lead Dixon asserted his power to pull away to as much as a four second lead at times, only to see that drop to less than 1.5 seconds as lapped cars slowed him as well.

     But for each slow down he experienced so did his rivals and at the end he was 2.1257 seconds ahead of Briscoe with Franchitti, Rahal and Patrick rounding out the top five.

     With his win today Dixon became the first two time winner in 2009 on the circuit and moved to the point lead.  

     “This win is just the culmination of a lot of hard work,” continued Dixon.  “It is just so tough to win here, the traffic is tough, and the track is tough, so for us to come out on top is just fantastic.  I was trying to get the flow of traffic the whole race and at the end it just came to us.  We had many runs on Briscoe and he did what he had to but he definitely got caught up there with (Tomas) Scheckter and I took to the bottom to get him.  I just have to thank our whole team for improving our short oval program so well.”

     “It was a great race,” said Briscoe, who after crashing in three of his first four races with Penske racing last year before winning here.  “Scott (Dixon) was just a little better than me at the end.  He got me in traffic, I was struggling with a bit of understeer and whenever I’d get on the inside I’d loose momentum and he just got me.  A good job by him!  He was there all day long.”

     Franchitti said his car just was not right in traffic but he was pleased overall.  “The hard thing was lapped cars.  It was timing your pass so as not to lose so much over the car in front of you.  I’d think I got it right and, shoot, I’d fall back.  It was a great day for our team,” said Franchitti, who closed to Briscoe rear late in the race but just could not make the pass.  “I really tried hard to pass him but when we were close he would take air off my nose and there was nothing I could do.  The Milwaukee Mile produces close racing and you’re really fighting lapped traffic all day long.”

     Rahal, who stayed in the top five all race long, completed his goal of bringing the car home to the finish.  After crashing out in the last two Indy 500’s and here last year he said, “It was out goal to finish and we are happy with fourth.  We were the fourth best car all day long and we wound up there.  The traffic at the end hurt us, but all in all I’m pleased with how the day went.”

     Last year Patrick was all gruff following the race here after an incident with Wheldon.  Today she was nothing but smiles after her 4th top five finish in a row brought her to a career best fourth in the point standings.  “We are having fun,” said Patrick.  “We are being consistent over run and everyone on the team is working hard and having fun at it and with just a little bit more luck we can do even better.”

     Matos, Andretti, Mutoh, Moraes and Wheldon rounded out the top ten as only 8 cars were on the lead lap at the finish.

     “That the way it is,” said the ever smiling Castroneves after his unusually trying day that saw him slip to fifth in the standings although only 25 points behind Dixon as the battle for the 2009 Indy Car title is already shaping up to be a dandy.

     The two caution periods for only 22 laps helped contribute to the fastest race here in quite a while.  Dixon averaged 138.784 enroute to his win.

     The series now moves to a Texas Motor Speedway next Saturday night for round six in the 2009 chase.