Scott Dixon cruises to Texas victory, blurs title picture

FORT WORTH, Texas -- It wasn't close, but it was convincing.

Scott Dixon's dominant victory in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway might have been lacking in drama, but it was exactly the kind of clean, competitive race the Verizon IndyCar Series needed to start the second half of the 2015 season.

Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet crushed the field at Texas, with the New Zealander leading his teammate Tony Kanaan across the line by 7.8 seconds in a race run at a record average speed of 191.940 mph.

Only five drivers were on the lead lap at the finish, but perhaps more importantly, it was an exceptionally clean race without a single crash or incident. The only caution was caused by a piece of debris.

The Ganassi 1-2 was keyed by the decision to run a higher level of downforce than the team's main competition from Team Penske, which, led by defending IndyCar Series champion Will Power, had qualified 1-2-3-5.

The additional options created by IndyCar's new-for-2015 aero kits gave Dixon and the Ganassi team the flexibility to come up with a winning setup.

Dixon said he lobbied to run less downforce but was overruled by the Ganassi engineering staff.

"The debate started last night after the warmup, and I thought I had my way," Dixon said. "Then at 1 o'clock this afternoon, I got a text from [race engineer] Chris Simmons that said we were going the other way. Thirty minutes before race, I was still moaning pretty good because obviously it's pretty hard when you see the first three or four cars ahead of you on the grid with a lot less downforce.

"The debate went back and forth, but in hindsight, I'm glad they understand what they're doing," he added. "There's so many choices that you can almost mess it up, and that's why I just drive the car."

For the first half of the race, Dixon was content to let pole man Power, fellow Penske runner Simon Pagenaud and teammate Kanaan pace the field. Once the No. 9 car hit the front, it was basically contest over, as Dixon led a race-high 97 laps.

"Huge credit to the engineering group for the option that we went with, which was the high downforce level, because once we got the balance right, the car was basically on rails," Dixon said.

"We knew from the last couple years that the key to the race was to be able to get through traffic, and tonight our car was great in traffic," he added. "It was one of those nights when you were just hoping there was no yellow. All in all, a big night. I'm stoked."

Dixon's second win of the 2015 season thrust him right into the thick of championship contention. He's third in the standings and 43 points behind Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished fourth at Texas. Defending series champion Power is second and eight points ahead of Dixon.

"We would obviously like to start these seasons stronger," Dixon said. "This is one of our better ones, even with an awful start in the first two races.

"This team has a lot of resources, so you know you'll have a shot every weekend," he continued. "But the competition is tough, especially with four Penske cars and four very legitimate drivers. So we're not going to dwell on this."

The most critical thing for IndyCar was to have a clean, safe race at Texas, and that's exactly what it got. It was a far cry from the pack racing Texas spawned in the late 1990s, but it was a whole lot less stressful on the drivers and teams.

The spread out finish won't please TMS president Eddie Gossage, but for IndyCar, a quiet night without crash-related headlines is exactly what the series needed.

"Eddie is always vocal," said Helio Castroneves, a four-time winner at Texas who finished third Saturday night. "For the first time with the aero kits, I think it was very successful."

"It was a great race," Kanaan added. "That's his opinion. He's not racing cars. He's a very good promoter -- one of the best -- so he should stick to that and let us race because that's what we do."

With Dixon having sailed off into the sunset, the protracted battle between childhood friends Kanaan and Castroneves for second place was the highlight of the last 100 laps. Helio eventually had to admit defeat and crossed the stripe 1.6 seconds behind his fellow Brazilian.

"We had a great battle, and we still hate [the] other on the track and love each other off the track after 30 years," Kanaan said.

"Any day, any time you run with guys like that, it's fun," Castroneves countered. "I feel safer within an inch of those guys than I did running 12th at Indianapolis with people who had no respect for what you were doing. I hope some of those young guys learned from tonight."

Ultimately, Saturday night's race was all about respect. Running an untested and unproven aero package for the first time, the IndyCar drivers were total professionals throughout the 248 laps, never putting a wheel wrong on the series' most difficult and daunting oval.

Without caution flags, rain showers or timed race rules to jumble things up, there was nothing to stop the sport's best driver from winning.

"Everyone has respect for Scott Dixon," Kanaan said. "He's an incredible driver, fifth all time in wins, and I still think he has a long career ahead of him.

"He's always going to be the guy."