Pocono Sweep Ends Ganassi Team’s Drought
Meanwhile, the race played out perfectly for Dixon. One of the crowd estimated at 40,000 in attendance was four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who attended his first IndyCar race in more than 20 years.
“I’m so excited to be here with Leo,” Gordon said, referring to his young son. “He’s the one who saw the cars on TV and said to my wife, Ingrid ‘Race car, race car.’ So we were in New York and said, ‘Heck, let’s go.’ To be back at Pocono with the Indy cars, how could we miss that? It’s so cool. I’m being here as a race fan and enjoying it.”
Before the race, Gordon visited with team owners Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Jay Penske and Michael Andretti. IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe came over to visit and then reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan came over to give Leo a stuffed animal that was in his winning race car at Indianapolis. Gordon also visited with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves on the starting grid before the race.
Kanaan was attempting to claim the second leg of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown Award and appeared to be a prime contender for the win as he put this car out front four times for 15 laps. But he clipped the rear of Dixon’s car as he was attempting to pass and that broke the end plate off Kanaan’s front wing. He finished 13th.
“I apologized to the crew several times,” Kanaan said. “I made a mistake and it cost us big. I had a run on Dixon but didn’t really think I was closing that fast on him. We had a car that was capable of winning this race and putting us in a position to contend for the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown and the $1 million prize. We still have a chance to go to Fontana and collect $250,000, but I just feel bad for the crew because they worked so hard to give me a very competitive car.”
The 400-mile race at Pocono proved that victory didn’t go to the fastest car; but the smartest driver and team. And the best strategy was employed by Ganassi’s three drivers.
Dixon’s victory was his first since Mid-Ohio last August — 13 races ago. He defeated Kimball by 0.4572-seconds in a race that had 16 lead chances among five drivers. Dixon won the race at an average speed of 192.864 mph — the fastest IndyCar race in Pocono Raceway history.
Dixon moved into fourth in the standings, 64 points behind Castroneves.
“Considering the crazy and poor results we’ve had throughout the year, it’s still astonishing that we are fourth in the championship,” Dixon said.
It was a day of milestones for Dixon, the team and for Honda. But the next milestones loom ahead.
“The milestones are great, but I think the first person I saw when I got out of the car was Chip and I said to him, you know, this morning, I didn’t think we would be sitting here,” Dixon said. “To say the least, it was a little bit of a shock. I knew the car was good. We just weren’t really sure about our pace. We kind of went out there aggressively. We trimmed the car quite a bit, and just hoped that we would be able to at least hang with them and on the pit stops, maybe have a better stop and better fuel mileage, and the fuel mileage was massive. Something that we didn’t expect to see as much, but I think the Chevys, looking at a lot of them on the grid, had a lot of downforce and a lot of drag on their car, so I think that helped our cause, as well.
“It’s been a rough year for us, for Team Target, and also for HPD. We have had sort of small parts of goodness but not the consistency that we have been used to. I think when we have had good cars, we’ve maybe had an engine problem and when we’ve had good engines, we’ve had a bit of a car problem.
“So it’s nice to get back. Obviously to have the team sweep at the podium is fantastic. Approaching the year anniversary of my last win, so it was nice to get one out of the way this year and get back on the top spot of the podium. I think more importantly, super excited for the team. Everybody has been working extremely hard and to have a glimpse of something great and some things to be positive about, hopefully we can keep this momentum rolling.”
It was the first win for Ganassi this season after the team got off to an unusually poor start. But it’s not too late to put on a championship charge.
“We maybe got a little lax in some areas and some other people, as well, so I think we are definitely pushing as much as possible,” Dixon said. “But when you get in these tough moments, yeah, you think, well, maybe I won’t win another race. But you know, when you are with a good team and you’ve had a good sort of track record before, it’s just great to work things out and make sure that you can get back into the groove of things.”
And Dixon became a big fan of the 2.5-mile, triangle-shaped Pocono Raceway — a track that was built for IndyCar racing and staged its first race in 1971. Pocono did not have its first NASCAR race until 1974.