by Esteban Morales
June 7, 2008
There is no doubt that Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is 2008’s championship favorite. After coming on strong at the end of 2007 and narrowly losing the title to Dario Franchitti in the last turn of the last lap, Dixon has emerged as the IndyCar circuit’s dominant driver. Whereas Franchitti gained momentum in the opening rounds of 2007, improving steadily and breaking through with a win at Indianapolis, Dixon started the season by winning from pole at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In fact, in only seven rounds Dixon has already amassed as many poles (four) as Franchitti managed to collect throughout all of 2007. Astonishingly, Dixon has finished on the podium and has qualified within the top three in all but one round, St. Petersburg. By winning at Texas Motor Speedway’s Bombardier Learjet 500, Dixon took his third win of 2008, just one shy of Franchitti’s total in 2007, and demonstrated that he is 2008’s driver to beat.
Despite the win, the usual suspects did their best to keep Dixon honest during the race. Throughout the opening stint, championship rival Helio Castroneves led the event through a flurry of cautions and two sets of pit stops. Castroneves jumped to the lead in the opening lap and held onto it despite a spin by Mario Dominguez, Darren Manning’s stalled car, Justin Wilson’s suspension failure after a brush with Turn 2, Oriol Servia’s spin in the same turn, and contact between Tomas Scheckter and Mario Moraes. When the race finally settled down after the lap 60 restart, Castroneves enjoyed a few laps at the head of the field before Dixon began to hound the Brazilian. Marco Andretti then joined the leaders and consistently ran a high line before taking the lead in lapped traffic on lap 98.
A few laps later Andretti gave up the lead as the first set of green flag pit stops cycled through. Andretti emerged with the lead while Castroneves served a penalty after speeding in pit lane. Andretti’s stint as the leader was brief, however. On lap 116 Dixon retook the lead, extended it to about two seconds and held it until he dove into the pits on lap 153. Dixon held his lead over Andretti and reentered the pits for a final time just 12 laps later during a caution for debris. Sentimental favorites Panther Racing gambled on strategy and kept Vitor Meira out of the pits during the yellow. Meira led over Ryan Hunter-Reay, who only took tires and was driving an excellent race. Panther Racing and Meira never caught the break they were looking for and had to pit on lap 207 relinquishing the lead to Andretti who had moved ahead of Dixon.
Andretti led through a penultimate caution after Enrique Bernoldi made contact in Turn 4 and got a jump on Dixon during the final restart. Within three laps Dixon closed the gap and moved to the inside as both cars entered the third turn. Andretti held onto the high side but Dixon emerged with the lead. Dixon’s move opened the door for Hunter-Reay one lap later. Hunter-Reay saw the opportunity to make a bid for his first IndyCar Series win and looked to the inside of Andretti. Andretti pinched Hunter-Reay to the inside of Turn 3 leading Hunter-Reay to run over the apron and wiggle sending both cars into the wall and handing Dixon his third victory of the year under yellow. A disgusted Hunter-Reay was certain that Texas was going to be Rahal Letterman Racing’s “breakout night” while a resolute Andretti felt that Hunter-Reay “clearly hit the white line and that is that.”