Kentucky Speedway officially joined "Dixie-land" tonight when IndyCar Series championship leader Scott Dixon scored a "Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Pepsi and Edy's" victory with a dramatic last-lap pass of Team Penske racer Helio Castroneves 500 feet before the finish line.
Dixon earned his first win at the facility by sailing his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing machine across the finish line 0.5532 of a second ahead of Castroneves, who used a fuel conservation strategy to move his No. 3 machine to the race lead with six laps remaining as Dixon dove his car to the pits for fuel.
The New Zealander emerged from the final stop and tracked down the No. 3 over the closing six-lap segment of the race before making the decisive pass.
"I knew we were on a pretty good strategy, but Helio and Penske pulled out a big one and they had us surprised.
"Helio made it very hard to pass. I tried one lap on the outside and one on the inside. He tried to run me on the grass even going into the pits, so, I'm definitely happy. When it's your year, things just seem to go your way," said Dixon, who owns 12 top-five finishes this season.
He is now tied with teammate Dan Wheldon for most single-season IndyCar Series wins with six after leading tonight's race six times for a race-high 151 laps. Dixon held off early race charges from Vitor Meira and traded the top spot with Marco Andretti twice from Lap 122 to 188 before taking his fourth top-two finish at Kentucky Speedway. Dixon placed second at the track in 2007, 2006 and 2003.
The victory helped Dixon gain 13 championship points on Castroneves, who sits 78 points down in the hunt for his first series title.
He closed out the night with his seventh second-place finish of the season and 12th top-five showing of the campaign through 14 races.
"We did not have the car, unfortunately, to compete with those guys so I said we would take a lot of gambles. Man, it was just a few hundred yards short.
"I saw the fuel gauge was really close. One of the laps I really lifted and they (my crew) said, 'no, no, you gotta keep going.' What an incredible strategy, I tried everything, the team tried everything. Second just seems to be my place.
"I won't give up until it's (the championship) done. I still have hope. If we still have points available to make it happen, we will make it happen. We are really, really working and today was proof that we'll try everything," Castroneves said.
Andretti and his No. 26 Meijer car took third, Meira grabbed fourth and Wheldon took fifth.
Tonight's official attendance was 66,389.
"Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Pepsi and Edy's" Extras:
-Tonight's margin of victory was the fourth-closest through nine series events at the track. Five of those races have been decided by less than one second at the finish line.
-Tonight's crowd of 66,389 was the largest for a series event at the track. The facility entertained its previous largest IndyCar Series crowd of 62,595 Aug. 13, 2005. The series average attendance moves from 53,600 to 55,021 all-time. The 2007 series race brought 56,482 fans to the facility.
-Andretti delivered his second straight top-five finish at Kentucky Speedway in his third career start at the track. He placed fourth last season.
-Meira earned his second top-five and fifth top-10 finish at Kentucky Speedway. He finished second to Scott Sharp by 0.0779 of a second in 2005.
-Wheldon wheeled to his fourth top-five and fifth top-10 finish at Kentucky Speedway in his sixth start. He has scored a top-five in four of his last five visits to the track. He placed 17th last season.
-Tonight's 26-car IndyCar Series field was the track's second-largest through nine events. The series started 27 cars on Aug. 27, 2000 during its inaugural visit to the facility.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
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