Dixon survives on fuel to complete perfect weekend at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Scott Dixon made it home on fumes to complete a perfect weekend at Watkins Glen International, where he led every session and won his second Verizon IndyCar Series race of the season.

Dixon made it home as others faced a late splash-and-dash or risked stopping late on in a chaotic race, the second to last of 2016.

But while the finish was dramatic, much of Dixon’s weekend wasn’t – it was controlled from start to finish in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

In the race itself, Dixon led 50 of 60 laps, and also got a bit lucky in terms of timing on the yellows that hit – something that has caught him out in the past, most notably at Toronto.

Dixon pitted for the first time on Lap 14 and a lap later, the first yellow came out following a tire blow-out for Mikhail Aleshin at the top of the Esses at Turn 4.

Others such as championship sparring partners Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had not pitted, nor had Dixon’s teammate Tony Kanaan. So that meant Dixon and teammate Max Chilton would cycle through to the front while those who’d need to pit under yellow would cycle back.

Dixon headed the field for the first 13 laps, then led the majority of the middle stanza from Laps 16 to 36, barring the next round of stops.

There were two crazy moments in the interim. The first came when Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal collided exiting Turn 1. Rahal blamed Kimball; Kimball was more introspective post-race.

The second was a three-wide battle between Sebastien Bourdais, Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi going into the Inner Loop on Lap 36. Bourdais squeezed through the middle and caught air over the curbs, but landed and managed to avoid a potentially nasty accident.

The race took a turn towards its nail-biting finish following a dramatic moment in the championship chase. The fourth member of the Ganassi quartet beyond Dixon, Chilton and Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, got a huge run on Will Power going into the Esses on Lap 39. But Power apparently didn’t see him and moved up the road into him on corner exit.

Power crashed out of the race and that meant the day would be better for title sparring partner Pagenaud. Power was checked and released from the infield medical center, but has not been cleared to drive owing to concussion-like symptoms. Per INDYCAR, further evaluations are expected this week.

Alas, the yellow and the subsequent final round of stops meant that with fuel stints usually in the 17 to 18-lap range, there would then be a longer run to the finish of 19 laps.

It meant a handful of different strategies were in play as drivers needed to save to make it home.

Helio Castroneves had stopped on Lap 36 and in theory, needed less fuel once he stopped with the leaders five laps later on Lap 41. But he pitted for a splash on Lap 57 along with Kimball and Chilton.

James Hinchcliffe was promoted into second and trailed Dixon by 18.1507 seconds. But he didn’t make it home, running out on Turn 8 on the final lap. It dropped him from a near-certain second-place into 18th.

Dixon did make it home, finishing 16.5 seconds clear of Josef Newgarden, who’d had a less eventful race than the rest of the field. Castroneves was third ahead of Daly, whose team was surprised as he was that he made it home. Bourdais was less than thrilled with Daly after the race, but still managed to come home in fifth.

Kimball ended his eventful race in sixth ahead of Pagenaud, the points leader, in seventh with Alexander Rossi, RC Enerson and Max Chilton making it three more rookies – along with Daly – in the top 10. Enerson had been caught out on the first yellow when running seventh, but recovered nicely in his second IndyCar start.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Takuma Sato had late spins that dropped them to 13th and 17th, respectively. Despite wholesale changes in the morning warmup, Ryan Hunter-Reay could only end 14th in his 200th IndyCar start. Hinchcliffe, as noted, was 18th while apparent right rear suspension issues – and the tire not being solid – helped knock Kanaan to 19th, the second-worst finish of his season.

Power’s accident left him 20th ahead of Rahal and Aleshin, who were also out of the race.

Unofficially heading to the final race of the season, Pagenaud leads Power by 43 points.

Results are below.

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Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?