AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) IndyCar’s return to the desert was supposed to fast and furious, maybe even a little dangerous.
It was certainly was fast, but Scott Dixon took most of the danger out with a dominating performance.
Dixon took the lead from Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan with 155 laps left and never relinquished control, dominating IndyCar’s first race at Phoenix International Raceway in 11 years on Saturday night.
”The Target car was fast, really, really fast,” Dixon said. ”I think at any point we had enough for anybody that was challenging. We definitely, definitely had some speed in reserve for sure.”
Dixon started sixth and took advantage of tire trouble that knocked two of Team Penske’s drivers out of the lead to move up the grid.
Once he passed Kanaan coming out of pit road, there was no stopping Dixon until he crossed the checkers under caution for his 39th career IndyCar race, tying Al Unser for fourth on IndyCar’s
It was Dixon’s 20th win on an oval and gave him victories in a series-record 12 straight seasons, a mark he had shared with Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Helio Castroneves.
”It is mind-boggling,” Dixon said of the records. ”I love doing what I do.”
Simon Pagenaud and Will Power helped save what could have been a disastrous day for Team Penske after Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya suffered blown tires early in the race.
Pagenaud made a big push after going a lap down due to a back break on a caution and finished second for the second straight week. Power was third after missing the season opener in St. Petersburg with an ear infection.
”Behind him (Dixon), we had the pace,” said Pagenaud, the points leader after two races. ”It’s so difficult to pass, there was no interest for me to take that many risks and try. I mean, I was trying, don’t get me wrong, but Will was trying, too, at the end, but there’s only so much you can do at some point of the race.”
Kanaan finished fourth to give Chevy the top four spots and Honda driver Graham Rahal was fifth.
IndyCar returned to PIR for the first time since 2005 and the drivers faced a reconfigured-and-repaved track that was much faster than before.
Maybe too fast.
Drivers began breaking track records, at least unofficially, during a test in February and during the first practice session on Friday, when 16 of 22 drivers eclipsed Arie Luyendyk’s 20-year-old record.
Six more drivers blew past the record during qualifying, led by pole sitter Castroneves’ lap of more than 192 mph.
With the race coming under the lights, the concern was that lower temperatures could lead to even more speed and dangerous conditions with little room to pass.
Instead of carnage, the race was fairly clean – except for Team Penske.
Castroneves led the first 39 laps, but dropped out after his right front tire blew out.
Montoya took the lead when Castroneves was forced into the pits, then he suffered the same problem to the same tire and was forced to the pits after leading 56 laps.
”This is unbelievable,” Montoya said on the radio as he pulled into his pit stall.
The Penske drivers worked their way back toward the front, but couldn’t make up all the ground. Montoya finished ninth and Castroneves was 11th.
”Anytime I pushed behind somebody, I picked up the same vibrations,” Montoya said. ”Being where we were, the last thing we needed was to go two laps down for another tire, so I just couldn’t do anything.”
Dixon had no trouble with tires or anything else. He was the fastest car off pit road and to the starting line after a few more cautions, his lead never really challenged on the way to his 20th career win on an oval.