STEAM CORNERS, Ohio -- If there was any doubt that Scott Dixon is the man to beat at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it was put to rest Sunday.
Dixon won the Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 with relative ease after starting last on the 22-car grid. He had a little help: A multicar accident at the first corner eliminated his Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan and several other contenders, he needed a well-timed caution to make his fuel strategy work, and the driver who looked like Dixon's toughest challenger -- Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing -- was set back by a mistake in the pits.
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesScott Dixon qualified last for Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but the defending series champ finished first.
"There was no miracle there," observed second-place finisher Sebastien Bourdais in a television interview. "They were the class of the field today.
"[Dixon] made an impossible mileage, holding the same pace we were, and he was even a little quicker. So hats off to the Target Chip Ganassi team."
Somehow, someway, from the back of the pack at an "impossible to pass" track, Dixon managed to take his fifth career victory at Mid-Ohio, and the sixth consecutive dating to 2009 at the venue for the Ganassi team.
The key to Dixon's 34th career race win was the decision by Target Ganassi managing director (and No. 9 race strategist) Mike Hull to stay on track during a Lap 39 caution when the majority of the field pitted.
It required Dixon to run almost two full stints in fuel-saving mode, all while dictating the pace of the race as the leader.
"Our race was going so poor from the start; we tried to switch strategies a couple times and the guys kept on it," Dixon said in Victory Lane. "I guess we got a little lucky with that caution, but the team had to call those shots. We were extremely close with the fuel number, but we still had the speed.
"Man, it feels good to be back in the winner's circle."
The Ganassi team cut it a little closer than expected. There was urgency in Hull's voice during a last-lap radio transmission to Dixon that instructed the driver to switch the Chevrolet engine's fuel mixture control to the maximum fuel-saving position. Dixon pulled over at the pit exit immediately after he took the checkered flag, concerned that he might not be able to complete another 2.25-mile lap under power.
"I think we came a little closer to running out of fuel than we thought," he admitted. "I was trying to be conservative, even with the lap times, to make sure that we were good with the competition. But the fuel light came on a little earlier than we expected.
"Luckily we had saved a little more than we needed to."
It looked like there was going to be a fight to the end between Dixon and Newgarden, who had several laps more fuel than his rival as well as fresher Firestone tires.
But Newgarden ran over an air hose entering the pits for his last stop, tripping his right-rear tire changer and incurring a drive-through penalty that took him out of contention after yet another competitive outing.
"One of those days, right?" he mused. "When it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be, I guess. We had a heck of a car, and really good strategy. It was falling perfect for us, but it just kind of unraveled."
That was typical of the help Dixon received on a day when the primary IndyCar Series championship contenders had a terrible day.
Incoming championship leader Helio Castroneves didn't make the start, the Brazilian's Team Penske Chevrolet suffering from an electronic problem that caused his engine to stick at full throttle on the parade laps. Castroneves eventually got going, but he was four laps down and classified 19th.
"As soon as they turned on the engine, I was like, 'Something is happening here,'" related Castroneves.
"It's just awful when you're running four laps behind and there is not much you can do."
Meanwhile, Ryan Hunter-Reay incurred a pit-lane speeding violation, then lost a lap with a spinout before rebounding to squeak into the top 10.
Will Power and Simon Pagenaud were in position to capitalize, but neither displayed the kind of speed at Mid-Ohio that they have at some other road racing venues this year. Power finished sixth, three places ahead of Pagenaud.
Thanks to his teammate's misfortune, Power did assume the championship lead, by four points over Castroneves. Hunter-Reay (minus-63) and Pagenaud (-64) made small gains, but the big mover was Dixon. He's still sixth in the standings behind Juan Pablo Montoya, but on Sunday he cut the gap to the leader from 146 to 108 points.
With the season finale at Auto Club Speedway paying 100 points to the winner, don't make the mistake of counting Dixon out yet.
Need proof? Just look at what he accomplished at Mid-Ohio.