Dixon Wins With Brilliant Fuel Strategy at Gateway, Remains in Championship Fight Featured
Scott Dixon and his no. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing team executed a perfect fuel strategy for the second race in a row to win for the 55th time in his career. His last win, 2 weeks ago at the Indy GP, came in nail-biting fashion as he held off a hard-charging Graham Rahal to win for the first time in over a year. This one, however, was a little bit more comfortable.
“I guess about 10 to go, I asked them, ‘How much heat are we getting from behind?’” Dixon said postrace. “They were like, ‘It's over 20 seconds, so just cruise.”
“It's been a long time since I've had a race like that.”
Sunday’s event was the final oval race of the 2023 season, and it delivered with the high-speed, harrowing close-quarters racing that fans have come to expect from the top open wheel series. What many didn’t foresee was a strategy race, but the track and teams delivered a compelling finish to an intriguing race.
The race did not start smoothly- Ed Carpenter ran into the back of Benjamin Pedersen on lap 1 in turn 1, which sent the rookie into the outside wall and ended his day. On the restart, however, Josef Newgarden took control of the race.
Newgarden was without challenge for much of the early going. As the race approached halfway, Pato O’Ward made a charge towards the front and engaged in a spirited battle with the dominant oval driver before the caution came out for the second (and final) time of the day.
Takuma Sato crashed off of turn 2, which ended his race. Scott Dixon was yet to pit when the incident occurred, as he was aiming for a risky 3-stop strategy. When the rest of the field pitted with him under caution, he took over the lead of the race. From there, the only question was whether he could make the fuel last long enough to get into his window for one more stop.
“I think probably the hardest part was the restart where we were leading, having to get a pretty high fuel number,” Dixon said. “We weren't getting it. We were a ways off. But I knew we could kind of stress that kind of second through fifth pack, get them into a pretty vulnerable situation. I knew once we caught the back markers we'd be able to save and get beyond the fuel mileage that we needed to. It actually worked out perfectly. We were able to go further and beyond where we needed to.”
As Dixon stretched his fuel, the rest of the field struggled to play catch-up. It initially looked like CGR teammate Marcus Ericsson would be able to keep pace with and even track down Dixon, due to him having 5 laps more fuel in the tank; however, he chose to undercut the final stint which forced him to pit twice in the final run. Romain Grosjean attempted the same strategy as Dixon, but lacked the speed to keep up with the 9, and he finished 12th.
Newgarden’s chances of sweeping the season’s oval races already looked bleak as Dixon continued to post competitive lap times while saving fuel, but with 48 to go, he officially ended his opportunity. He drifted into the marbles in the corner and couldn’t stay out of the wall. The contact broke a toe link and ended his day.
As the rest of the field required one more stop for fuel, Dixon cruised to a 20-plus second lead over second place. When the checkered flag flew, only 2 other cars were on the lead lap- second place Pato O’Ward, and third place David Malukas.
Both drivers felt that they had nothing for Dixon at the end.
“Scott Dixon decided to do a Dixon today,” O’Ward said. “He knows how to do it better than anybody with a great combination that he has with his team and car and everything. It's a bummer that we weren't even close to kind of even race him.”
Malukas echoed O’Ward’s comments.
“We tried to do what Dixon did,” Malukas explained. “I don't know how he can do it. We were falling off like a cliff trying to meet that fuel target. I was lifting at the start/finish line. I am like, ‘Guys, that's not possible.’ We had to kind of cut it off and go heavy push from there.”
O’Ward’s podium- his seventh in 2023- moved him into 4th in points. He is still without a win on the year.
Malukas captured his first podium on Sunday by finishing third. It’s the second of his career. The site of his other podium? Gateway, one year ago.
“Overall we had a really good car, and it was good for the team,” Malukas said. “Another podium at Gateway. Yeah, going through obviously INDYCAR two times here and through INDY NXT, we just keep getting podiums [at Gateway].”
Alexander Rossi and Scott McLaughlin finished fourth and fifth, respectively, as they turned in solid results at the track. Colton Herta, Alex Palou, and Felix Rosenqvist were next in the finishing order. Will Power and Marcus Ericsson closed out the top 10 as they both had solid recoveries from a practice crash Saturday night.
With Newgarden’s crash, he is now eliminated from championship contention. He currently sits third behind Dixon and Alex Palou. Dixon commented post race on what that means for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“I think what is special is going into the last two races, it can only be a Ganassi driver, which is very cool,” Dixon said. “I know that makes Chip very proud, and the hundred-plus employees that work at that place, as well.”
Dixon’s recent momentum (and win streak) keeps him in the title fight, albeit a distant 74 points back of his teammate. Does he think he has a chance at the title? A longshot, perhaps. Will he keep fighting for it? Absolutely.
“It would take a pretty big hit I think,” Dixon said. “It would take maybe a mechanical or a crash to make it interesting for Laguna. But anything is possible, right? I think all of us have seen, myself personally, have been involved in situations like that before. There are no double points, none of that stuff going on. He's got a healthy lead. Until we're mathematically out of it, we'll keep pushing as hard as possible as we always do.”
“The goal for us the last two races is to try to win them.”
A strong goal indeed for 6-time.
Ethan Miller is 17 years old and resides in Pennsylvania. He aspires to become a sports writer following high school, and views writing for Speedway Digest as the next step towards a career in journalism. Ethan currently hosts the QuickPitPodcast with a few fellow NASCAR fans, which can be found on all major podcast platforms.