Dixon leads, but passing difficult through first half at Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Two right front flat tires for Team Penske have taken the thus far dominant pairing of Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya out of the lead and dropped them to nearly the end of the 22-car field in tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, Round 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season (LIVE on NBCSN).

The respective issues for Castroneves on Lap 40 and Montoya just before Lap 100 left two Chip Ganassi Racing Teams in the lead, with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan up front.

The passing star behind them has been Ryan Hunter-Reay, who started 12th and was up to seventh in the opening five laps, and ran as high as third before the second pit stop sequence.

But Hunter-Reay’s charge was halted when Andretti Autosport teammate Carlos Munoz stopped on course on Lap 120 going into Turn 1, right in the middle of the sequence. It caught Hunter-Reay and several others one or more laps down who had just made a stop.

Just nine cars were on the lead lap at the halfway mark, with Dixon leading the returning Will Power, Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and Charlie Kimball in the top five.

The remaining lead lap cars are Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Josef Newgarden (who overcame an earlier pit issue) and Sebastien Bourdais.

Castroneves and Montoya fell to 13th and 14th, a lap down.

With the higher downforce kits making passing difficult, NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski took to Twitter to chime in: