INDYCAR: Dixon wins at Toronto, nearly doubles points lead over Newgarden

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In a race that at times got rather chaotic, Scott Dixon remained patient and focused, capturing Sunday’s 34th annual edition of the Honda Indy Toronto.

Dixon really put on an exhibition on the temporary street course around Toronto’s Exhibition Place, taking the lead from pole sitter Josef Newgarden when the latter glanced off the wall on Lap 33 and – with the exception of cycling through on a few pit stops – never really let the lead get too far out of his hands.

“I’m worn out, man, it was definitely a physical race,” Dixon told NBCSN. “The car was superb. We just needed some clean air and we were able to check out.”

The win was Dixon’s third career triumph at Toronto. His previous two wins there both came in 2013.

It also was his 44th career INDYCAR win and third of the 2018 season, and comes one week before his 38th birthday (July 22). The four-time IndyCar champion, in pursuit of his fifth career title, also is now tied A.J. Foyt for second place on the INDYCAR career top-fives list.

The win helped Dixon not only remain the points leader in the Verizon IndyCar Series with five races remaining, but also padded his margin from 33 to 62 points over Josef Newgarden.

“It was definitely a tough race, definitely tough on the restarts,” Dixon said. “We just have to keep these points rolling. … Huge congrats to the team. I’m stoked. This is awesome.”

As for Dixon markedly increasing his lead in the points, Newgarden — who won this race last year and two of the previous three races there — told NBCSN, “Yeah, we can get him, absolutely. We’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help, but we’ve got plenty of racing left, we have to keep our head up and we’ll be just fine. We have fast cars that are the best in the business. We get our mistakes sorted out and we’ll be just fine.”

Dixon won by 5.2701 seconds over runner-up Simon Pagenaud, the latter enjoying one of his best days in a season that has had its share of struggles. It was Pagenaud’s first-ever podium in nine tries in Toronto.

“It was hard racing, good racing, man, I really had fun,” Pagenaud told NBCSN. “It was a blast to drive. Really difficult, but when you have a good result like this, it’s very rewarding. I think we showed we’re back, so I’m excited.

“We’ve had good seasons. We’ve had not so-good seasons. The big thing is to bounce back and I think we’re doing just that. We’re working diligently in the background and I think it showed this weekend.”

Canadian and rookie INDYCAR driver Robert Wickens finished third, followed by fellow Canadian countryman and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate, James Hinchcliffe, and Charlie Kimball (who earned a season-best and top finish for the new Carlin Racing team).

“It was amazing,” Wickens told NBCSN, shortly after donning the Canadian flag on his shoulders. “Normally, I’m not an overly teary-eyed guy, but that was really cool.

“I can’t thank the Toronto fans enough. This whole week has been such a whirlwind of emotions. To stand on the podium in my first professional home race, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

It was Wickens’ third podium showing in the first 12 races of his first INDYCAR season.

“We had a great car in the race,” Wickens said. “I don’t think anyone had anything for Scott today. Dixie was in a class of his own today.”

Added Hinchcliffe, who won last week at Iowa, “I’m really proud of the boys, happy for Robby (Wickens) and it’s awesome to have two (SPM) cars in the top-5 here in Toronto.”

Sixth through 10th were Tony Kanaan, Zach Veach, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden and Marco Andretti, who likely would have finished perhaps as high as fourth had he not been forced to pit for a splash of fuel with two laps remaining.

“I just saw the collector (fuel indicator light) go on and my heart just sunk,” Andretti told NBCSN. “We had a top-4 pace. I’m really disappointed. I maybe had a shot at a podium, but definitely fourth.”

Meanwhile, Kanaan told NBCSN, “I wanted to come here and have a good result. This is the best result of the year for us so far. Everything went well.”

There were several incidents in the 85-lap race:

* On Lap 13, rookie Ed Jones became the first driver to come into the pits for service and promptly stalled it for several seconds. He finally was able to get going, just barely in front of race leader Josef Newgarden, keeping Jones from going a lap down.

* On Lap 23, Sebastien Bourdais spun in Turn 1 and bounced off the tire wall. He was able to back up and get going again, negating the need for a caution flag. Bourdais took his car to pit road to replace the rear wing that was damaged in the incident.

* On Lap 29, Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi both suffered mishaps that brought out the caution flag. Hunter-Reay spun in Turn 3 and then could not get his car restarted before assistance arrived to get him going again. Then, almost at the same time, Rossi suffered front wing damage after contact with Will Power on the long back straightaway. Hunter-Reay (rear wing), Rossi (front wing) and Power (rear suspension) all eventually came to the pits for repairs, losing valuable time.

* On the restart on Lap 34, Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Max Chilton, Sebastien Bourdais, Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal all crashed in Turn 1. This came just seconds after pole sitter Josef Newgarden slammed the wall heading into Turn 1, dropping him from near the front of the pack to 13th place. Rossi actually was launched into the air and sailed over Rahal’s car.

“Man, it’s not a DNF, but it’s kind of like a DNF in the season,” said Power, who finished 18th. “We’re still going to keep pushing away. There’s double points at the end (in the season finale at Sonoma), and that can be a 100 point swing, so we’re still in the game.”

* On Lap 44, rookie Rene Binder stalled in Turn 8 shortly after Newgarden and Ed Jones twice bounced off each other but were able to continue on.

* On Lap 68, Takuma Sato hit the Turn 2 wall hard and took his car off-course, ending his day.

* On Lap 77, Spencer Pigot, who had been enjoying a fairly good run, suffered a suspension failure and headed for the pits, also calling it a day.

The series now enjoys a weekend off — although several teams will test Tuesday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course — with the next race scheduled for Sunday, July 29, at Mid-Ohio.

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After New York whirlwind, Josef Newgarden makes special trip to simulator before Detroit

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DETROIT – There’s no rest for the weary as an Indy 500 winner, but Josef Newgarden discovered there are plenty of extra laps.

The reigning Indy 500 champion added an extra trip Wednesday night back to Concord, N.C., for one last session on the GM Racing simulator before Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

After a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course, the race has been moved to a nine-turn, 1.7-mile layout downtown, so two extra hours on the simulator were worth it for Newgarden.

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“I really wanted to do it,” he told NBC Sports at a Thursday media luncheon. “If there’s any time that the sim is most useful, it’s in this situation when no one has ever been on a track, and we’re able to simulate it as best as we can. We want to get some seat time.

“It’s extra important coming off the Indy 500 because you’ve been out of rhythm for a road or street course-type environment, so I really wanted some laps. I was really appreciative to Chevy. There was a few guys that just came in and stayed late for me so I could get those laps before coming up here. I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but I feel like it’s going to help for me.”

After a whirlwind tour of New York for two days, Newgarden arrived at the simulator (which is at the GM Racing Technical Center adjacent to Hendrick Motorsports) in time for a two hour session that started at 6 p.m. Wednesday. He stayed overnight in Charlotte and then was up for an early commercial flight to Detroit, where he had more media obligations.

Newgarden joked that if he had a jet, he would have made a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee, but a few more days away from home (where he has yet to return in weeks) is a worthy tradeoff for winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – though the nonstop interviews can take a toll.

“It’s the hardest part of the gig for me is all this fanfare and celebration,” Newgarden said. “I love doing it because I’m so passionate about the Indy 500 and that racetrack and what that race represents. I feel honored to be able to speak about it. It’s been really natural and easy for me to enjoy it because I’ve been there for so many years.

“Speaking about this win has been almost the easiest job I’ve ever had for postrace celebrations. But it’s still for me a lot of work. I get worn out pretty easily. I’m very introverted. So to do this for three days straight, it’s been a lot.”

Though he is terrified of heights, touring the top of the Empire State Building for the first time was a major highlight (and produced the tour’s most viral moment).

“I was scared to get to the very top level,” Newgarden said. “That thing was swaying. No one else thought it was swaying. I’m pretty sure it was. I really impressed by the facility. I’d never seen it before. It’s one of those bucket list things. If you go to New York, it’s really special to do that. So to be there with the wreath and the whole setup, it just felt like an honor to be in that moment.”

Now the attention shifts to Detroit and an inaugural circuit that’s expected to be challenging. Along with a Jefferson Avenue straightaway that’s 0.9 miles long, the track has several low-speed corners and a “split” pit lane (teams will stop on both sides of a rectangular area) with a narrow exit that blends just before a 90-degree lefthand turn into Turn 1.

Newgarden thinks the track is most similar to the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to predict with this stuff until we actually run,” he said. “Maybe we go super smooth and have no issues. Typically when you have a new event, you’re going to have some teething issues. That’s understandable. We’ve always got to massage the event to get it where we want it, but this team has worked pretty hard. They’ve tried to get feedback constantly on what are we doing right, what do we need to look out for. They’ve done a ton of grinding to make sure this surface is in as good of shape as possible.

“There’s been no expense spared, but you can’t foresee everything. I have no idea how it’s going to race. I think typically when you look at a circuit that seems simple on paper, people tend to think it’s not going to be an exciting race, or challenging. I find the opposite always happens when we think that way. Watch it be the most exciting, chaotic, entertaining race.

Newgarden won the last two pole positions at Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile layout and hopes to continue the momentum while avoiding any post-Brickyard letdown.

“I love this is an opportunity for us to get something right quicker than anyone else,” he said. “A new track is always exciting from that standpoint. I feel I’m in a different spot. I’m pretty run down. I’m really trying to refocus and gain some energy back for tomorrow. Which I’ll have time to today, which is great.

“I don’t want that Indy 500 hangover. People always talk about it. They’ve always observed it. That doesn’t mean we have to win this weekend, but I’d like to leave here feeling like we had a really complete event, did a good job and had a solid finish leading into the summer. I want to win everywhere I go, but if we come out of here with a solid result and no mistakes, then probably everyone will be happy with it.”