As 25 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers took to Portland International Raceway on Sunday for the first time since 2007, all eyes were on two of them: Scott Dixon (+26) and Alexander Rossi (-26).
Scott Dixon salvages Portland result, extends points lead to 29
Dixon was riding his points lead into Portland with a red-hot Rossi not far behind. Rossi wanted to trim his deficit in the standings to under 20 points going into the double-points season finale at Sonoma. That would mean if either of them won the race, it wouldn’t matter where their opponent finished in relation to winning a championship.
On Sunday at Portland, it didn’t take long for the situation to get shaken up. As the cars took the green flag going into a skinny turn one, cars bounced around every which way, and it found four of them off the track. Particularly, the No. 9 car of Dixon. Dixon found himself sitting in the grass-sand hybrid that sat outside of the straightaway coming out of the first series of turns, though he found himself with no damage.
Scott Dixon Recovers After Early Mishaps
“I couldn’t see anything once I got off in the dirt at the start, it was just dust everywhere,” Dixon said. “Then I kept getting hit and hit and thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to be good.'”
Dixon pulled back onto the track as a full course yellow slowed the field down. Meanwhile, Rossi was trailing Will Power for the race lead and closing the gap on Dixon in points as they ran. However, that wasn’t the last of Dixon’s struggles.
Later in the race with Rossi in the lead, Dixon came down pit road as part of a one-stop-short fuel strategy the team had moved to after the accident on lap 1. During that time, the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing car was flagged for speeding in pit lane, forcing Dixon to come down pit road for a drive-through penalty. It looked like his day had just taken a bigger hit than it had on lap 1, and with such a big lead Rossi would have nothing to worry about going into Sonoma.
Strategy Calls Pushes Title Rival Alexander Rossi To Eighth
Then, mass confusion shuffled up the entire field of this race. As Dixon and others were solidified on the two-stop strategy, Rossi – who was P2 – and leader Josef Newgarden were committed to their original three-stop plans.
Newgarden and Rossi appeared to have screwed up their strategies, however, and pitted when they could have stretched their gas longer. That eventually resulted in the pair sitting in P10 and P11 with 24 laps to go. Meanwhile, Dixon was in fifth.
Rossi tried to fight his way up the field. If he finished behind Dixon, he would lose ground in the points standings. The NAPA Auto Parts No. 27 eventually found its way up the field, and even passed Newgarden with 17 laps to go.
At that point, it was evident that Rossi was going to be trying to limit his deficit with each pass, and not gain ground every time he saw a new face in the rear-view mirror. That was something that wasn’t even imaginable after the start Dixon had.
“It’s one of those days,” Rossi said to IndyCar after the race. “Our tire strategy was going to plan and everything was good until the yellow [flag] came on Lap 56. It hurts a lot, and hopefully, it’s not something that costs us the championship.”
Rossi went on to finish P8, three spots behind Dixon, who completely flipped the script
“It was a huge day for the team today and feels like a win for us,” Dixon said. “Luckily, we were able to keep the PNC Bank car running [after the first accident on lap one], back up from the incident and continue. What a crazy day.”
Takuma Sato earns third career IndyCar win
As the points championship heated up in the middle of the field, Takuma Sato was leading the way during the final green-flag stretch. With two laps to go, he was challenged by Ryan Hunter-Reay, as he tried to chase down his third win. Hunter-Reay made it up to Sato’s bumper, but could never complete a pass. Sato would go on to victory lane at Portland.
“This is big,” Sato said. “Fantastic weekend. Obviously, with the couple of hard, physical weekends, especially at St. Louis (Gateway), we did save fuel and it didn’t work, but you have to keep on going and this time I think the fuel strategy worked really well.”
The win was Sato’s third victory of his career, and also the third team he has won an IndyCar series race with. Not to mention, along with his Indy 500 victory in 2017, this is the first time Sato has brought home a win in back-to-back races.
“Most importantly, the car had pace so I could commit. Looking at the fans here in Portland, so enthusiastic, I think this is one of the most beautiful days in my life again.”
Exiting Portland, Rossi will stand 29 points back of Dixon for the points lead going into the final race of the season. That race, the GoPro IndyCar GP of Sonoma, will serve as a double points race for the series, meaning first and second place will earn a 20-point difference in the point standings.
Simplified, Dixon will win the points championship if he finishes ahead of Rossi. Though, if Rossi wins, he will need to see Dixon finish outside of the top three in order for him to capture his first career title
“We just have to rebound and move on from it and know that it’s something that’s out of our control,” Rossi said. “Now, it’s time to refocus and be ready to attack for Sonoma.”
The IndyCar GP of Sonoma will take the green flag at 6:40 p.m. ET and will be televised by NBCSN.
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