Whether or not Scott Dixon is the bet American open wheel driver ever, he is certainly the best at turning a winning strategy into an actual win.
In the last IndyCar race, Dixon was forced onto an alternate (and, eventually, winning) strategy after spinning into the grass on a lap one pile-up. In Sunday's race at Gateway, Dixon's move onto the winning strategy was a little more intentional. His No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing car was in the middle of a top ten where passing was at a premium mid-race as everyone else in the field began to pivot to a four-stop strategy, so Dixon started to save fuel and stayed out well after the leaders stopped to stick on a three-stop strategy. That put him in good shape to win, but the choice was rendered moot when Ganassi teammate Takuma Sato spun and brought out a yellow while Dixon was still on track.
That took Dixon out of position to be the only car on his initial strategy and gave other leaders a chance to effectively take a free stop, but it gave Dixon the lead with equal tires and fuel on the next restart. Then Dixon pulled away while early leaders Josef Newgarden and Pato O'Ward battled behind, leading O'Ward and Newgarden to pivot again back to a multi-stop strategy. Both short pitted, in the hopes that their full push without saving fuel would put them in position to take advantage of caution timing in the same way Dixon had laps earlier.
Not only did that yellow never come, nobody else could match Dixon's fuel save plan behind the leaders, either. Newgarden would crash after his final stop, mathematically eliminating him from championship contention. As every other potential contender chose to stop earlier than Dixon, the six-time champion stood alone on his strategy.
Incredibly, Dixon did not actually seem to be saving fuel particularly aggressively. Pato O'Ward would finish second, actually losing time Dixon after his final stop. On NBC's post-race broadcast, he said that "when they were telling me on the radio the 9 car was trying to make it to the end, [I knew he was] going to make it to the end." Dale Coyne Racing's David Malukas finished just behind O'Ward, completing the podium and coming one position short of matching his best-ever finish of second earned in this race last year.
Alex Palou continued an incredibly consistent season by finishing seventh in a race where he had nothing near world-beating pace, but Dixon's win means that he has still not mathematically clinched a championship. Palou leads his veteran teammate by 74 points with two races remaining. Palou needed 109 points to mathematically clinch the title today, but IndyCar awards at least five points for every car in a race. That means Dixon can only gain 99 points over the next two races even if he wins from pole and leads every lap as Palou fails to finish, making a seventh title mathematically possible, but very, very difficult.
IndyCar's final two races, both natural terrain road courses on the west coast, will be run over the next two weeks.
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