Fuel strategy nearly nets Scott Dixon a second Indy 500 crown

Photo: IndyCar

Surprisingly, Scott Dixon was not much of a factor for most of the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. Starting ninth, Dixon didn’t seem to have the pace to crack the top five, despite running inside the top 10 for most of the race.

Consequently, he and the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda team elected to make a strategy play ahead of the Lap 162 restart. With much of the field staying out, Dixon came in to top off the fuel in hopes of making an economy run similar to what Bryan Herta, Andretti Autosport and Alexander Rossi did in 2016 to take the win.

However, Dixon would need to run more laps than Rossi did that year. Rossi went 36, while Dixon needed to do 39 — a daunting task, even for someone as renowned for “making fuel” as Dixon is.

Still, the strategy nonetheless put him in position to challenge for a win, as he got ahead of Will Power, Ed Carpenter and everyone else who made their final pit stops. However, his pace while saving fuel was slow enough that it allowed Power to close in after he pitted, and Power actually drafted by Dixon on the front straightaway on Lap 185.

Although it wasn’t for the lead – it was actually a battle for fourth – it seemingly put paid to Dixon’s chances for a win, as he needed to remain in fuel-saving mode to make the finish, while Power could run full rich.

In the end, Dixon finished third behind Ed Carpenter. He explained that, in addition to going off-strategy and saving fuel, he struggled on restarts much of the day, as he and the team seemed to mismatch the gearing for the race conditions.

“As soon as we pitted, right before the end of that caution, we tried to obviously take on as much fuel as possible, be the first in that scenario. We knew there was probably three or four others that were trying. Oriol (Servia) looked like he was, a couple of others. But, yeah, we really struggled on restarts today. The first and second gear just seemed to be way out of sync to the pace of what everybody was restarting. First to be on a limiter, second I was like a sitting duck, wouldn’t accelerate, gear was way too long.”

However, while Chevrolet appeared to have an outright pace advantage, Dixon did not put any blame onto Honda. He said he and the team simply made an error on their own.

“I think Honda have done a superb job,” he said. “We just missed a little bit (on Sunday).”

Dixon is ranked fourth in the championship, 35 points behind new championship leader Will Power.