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DIXON CAPTURES WILD INDIANAPOLIS 500
Scott Dixon - Photo by Steve Burzynski, Bronco's Pitstop
Scott Dixon - Photo by Steve Burzynski, Bronco's Pitstop
May 25th 2008 - By:  Mark W. Theisen

     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA  May 25, 2008:   New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, the runner-up to Dario Franchitti last year in the Indianapolis 500, came back with determination this year, won the pole and completed the sweep by winning today’ 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 in race that was marred by 8 caution flags.

Dixon, the 2003 Indy Car Series Champion, gave car owner Chip Ganassi his 3rd Indy 500 win before the strongest crowd in 10 years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as fans began their trek back to open wheel racing that began with the unification of the two open wheel series this past winter.

With 11 first-time starters in today’s 500 starting field and with limited practice all month long because of rain many predicted a wild start to the race but it wasn’t the start that became the problem as the drivers quickly moved into single file it was the wind and that cloud cover that came in and out all race long that played havoc with the car setups and contributed to the accidents that slowed the race 70 laps and allowed 9 different drivers to lead the race.

Under party cloudy skies at 1 p.m. the cars rolled from the pits with Dixon, pacing the field because of his pole winning run on Saturday May 9th, and when the green flag was waived to start this edition of the 500 it was Dixon ahead of his Target Ganassi Racing teammate Dan Wheldon and the third car in the front row, Ryan Briscoe.

Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 winner who traded fast laps all month long at Indianapolis with Dixon, took the lead on lap 3 and was in front on lap 8 when the first caution waived for a mirror that had fallen off Bruno Junqueira car’s on the front stretch.

Despite having only raced 10 laps most of the cars chose to make pit stops to correct handling problems on their cars that materialized because most thought the sun would be out and had set them up for that type of weather.

Junqueira: Buddy Rice, the 2004 500 winner, Justin Wilson and Sarah Fisher elected not to pit to gain track position and where ahead after the pit stops but Junqueira’s team, unaware that they had to pit to replace the mirror because of series rules had to be informed of the rule and thus relinquished the lead to Rice when they made the stop.  It took several laps to replace the mirror and Junqueira removing any chance he may have had at a good finish.

Just prior to the restart Fisher, while swerving to warm her tire, lost control of her car and spun into the pit lane.  This extended the caution and put her down two laps after being pushed to her pit and restarted.

Rice led for 8 laps before Wheldon retook control of the race on lap 20 and stayed with the leaders until both he and Wilson had to make green flag pit stops on lap 32.

Rookie Graham Rahal, son of Indy 500 mile winner and car owner Bobby, got up high exiting turn 4 on lap 37 and smacked the wall damaging the right side of his car to put him out of the race and the race under yellow for the second time, sending all the lead cars to the pits once again.

Dixon, who had retaken the lead from Wheldon just one lap before the crash, was the leader out of the pits followed by Tony Kanaan, Thomas Scheckter and Helio Castroneves.

During that round of pit stops the car being driven by A.J. Foyt IV became engulfed in flames after refueling with track crews quickly extinguishing the blaze.  Foyt was not injured in the fire and was able to return to the race, albeit many laps down, ultimately finishing 21st.

Marty Roth, on lap 61 being lapped by the lead cars, went high in turn four to allow the faster cars by but that good deed put him in the wall as tire rubber debris in the turn got on his tires and sent him into the wall to bring out the 3rd yellow of the race and his car out of the race.

At this juncture of the race it looked as though it would be the Dixon-Wheldon show as the pair continued to exchange the lead but the cars of Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Scheckter, Ed Carpenter and Ryan Hunter-Reay where all gaining speed due to adjustments being made on each pit stop.

Danica Patrick, who started 5th, was in the top ten during these early laps but her car was plagued by the ever changing sun in, sun out weather and was chasing the set-up on the car and that situation continued on further into the race.

Jaime Camara brought out the fourth caution on lap 80 when he hit the wall in turn one and the ensuing caution was just what the Andretti-Green racing team cars of Kanaan and Andretti needed as both cars came to life on the ensuing restart.

On lap 94 Kanaan became the first driver to pass one of the Target-Ganassi cars on the track today taking the lead to become the first driver in 500 history to lead seven consecutive races.

Kanaan was able to briefly pull to a lead but both Dixon and Andretti were able to run him down and as Andretti made a bold move to the inside he forced Kanaan high into the third turn striking the wall damaging his car and it suddenly shot across the track right into the path of Fisher sidelining both from the race.

The incident was a significant point in the race as a teammate took anther from the race and left a bitter taste in Kanaan’s mouth.  “It as a stupid move,” said Kanaan.  “I think teammates shouldn’t to that to teammates.  I’m sure he will have a good explanation for what he did.  Halfway through the race with a bunch of traffic, why are you going into me like that?  I will wait to see what he says.”

For Fisher, who is the owner of her car, it was another bitter pill to swallow this month after having committed sponsors drop out at the last minute and have to field the team on her own.   “Our team worked so hard this month, our car was great, we messed up on the start but were coming back,” said Fisher.  “It just wasn’t’ our day.”

Dixon led on the ensuring restart but it was Andretti who was now fast and took his first lead in the race on lap 122 and was in front for caution number 6 when Wilson suffered mechanical woes in the south shortchute and spun his car into the wall and out of the race.

Rookie Mario Moraes elected to stay on the track while the rest of the lead lap cars made their stops for this caution and he was ahead for about 100 feet on the restart when Andretti retook the lead.  Before that lap could be recorded Moraes fell from 1st to 16th as he basically was in a fight for his survival being passed all over the track.

Andretti was the first to pass Moraes but it was Dixon who was fast again taking back the lead on lap 140 ahead of Andretti, Schcketer and Vitor Meira.

Alex Lloyd spun coming out of the fourth turn on lap 153 and sailed right into the pit lane sending officials and crewmen scrambling for safety to avoid the errant car to bring out caution number 7 with pit stops again being the rule.

Carpenter, who had dropped as low as 23rd place following a stop that was made long due to his car sticking in gear, worked his way steadily back to the front and remained on the track at this point to recover all that lost track position as lead lap 156 before making a stop to cycle him back into the top ten.

Dixon led the cars out of the pit but on the restart it was Meira who was fastest taking the lead and with the stable air in front on him he was able to build a lead over Dixon, Andretti, Castroneves and Carpenter.

Mike Duno was clipped by Buddy Lazier in the third turn on lap 169 and spun into the grass to bring out the final caution and set up a dramatic pit instance with Patrick and Briscoe.  With Patrick’s stop completed she pulled out into the proper lane but was clipped by Briscoe.  The contact damaged both cars putting both out of the race.  An angry Patrick stalked down pit road towards Briscoe’s pit but was thwarted by track security and would only say, “It’s probably best I didn’t get down there anyway, isn’t it?” said Patrick, who complemented her crew for their tireless effort all day long in trying to get her car to handle.

Dixon’s team got him out ahead of Meira, Andretti Castroneves and Carpenter and that is how the race played out to the finish with Dixon adding the crown jewel to his career by 1.7498 seconds over Meira, who was driving for a single car team, Panter Racing.

“What a day, man,” said Dixon.  “I just couldn’t believe it!  You thought something would go wrong, but it didn’t.  I was concerned when my teammate, (Wheldon) had problems and that those would come my way.  We had to hold on.  On each restart we were a sitting duck but in the end our guys made the right adjustment calls and were prevailed.  On that last right restart, I felt that if we got a good jump they could not pass and that worked for us.  It was just a great day and great feeling to win here after coming so close last year.”

For Meira it was a fulfillment of a promise that his car owner, John Barnes, made in April.  “We are putting all our efforts into one car this year and it will show,” said Barnes.  “We have had several opportunities to run a second car but we have every bit of confidence in Vitor (Meira) to do the job for us.”

Meira and his team went out and proved Barnes a profit today.  Running in the top 10 all race long he made the most of strategic moves late in the race to be in position for his run.  “We really, really prepared the car,” said Meira, “and everything went according to plan.  The final piece was to win and that didn’t happen, we finished second, but you know what, this is a very good result, compared to the struggle we had last year and at the beginning of this season.  Definitley, Panther Racing is back.”

Andretti said it was a team decision to trim out the car on the final pit stop and that adjustment cost him down force and the ability to pass the leaders, yet he took it in stride.  “It was a team decision to do what we did, but we missed.  We had a good point’s day and we will move on from this.”

As for his brush with Kanaan earlier in the race Andretti said, “I thought I had him cleared.  I had a run for the lead going and being a driver I went for it.  I’m sorry that it happened but at the moment I made the decision to go for it (the lead) and that is what a driver is supposed to do.”

Castroneves credited his team for getting him back in the race after early contact with a car exiting pit road left him with a bent front wing.  “The changed to whole piece, kept me on the lead lap and made the adjustments to get me back to the front.  What more can I ask for?” said Castroneves.

Carpenter also credited his crew with his best ever 500 finish.  “They (the crew) made calls to get our track position after I messed up and they are the ones that deserve this finish.”

Hunter-Reay finished sixth to win rookie-of-the-race honors, followed by Hideki Mutoh, Rice, Darren Manning and Townsend Bell.

Dixon won from the pole position, the 19th time the winning car has come from the pole at Indianapolis and with his win he takes over the series point lead as the series heads to the Milwaukee Mile for next Sunday’s Indy Car series on the historic one-mile oval.

15 cars finished on the lead lap, just one short of the all time record for the race set in 1959.

*EOS