Scott Dixon holds off Takuma Sato at Gateway for 50th IndyCar victory

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Scott Dixon continued his march toward a sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship, capitalizing on a swift green-flag pit stop for a victory Saturday in the first race of a weekend doubleheader at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

It’s the fourth triumph in eight races this year for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who opened the season with three consecutive wins at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Road America.

Dixon finished 0.14 seconds ahead of Takuma Sato, reversing the finishing order from Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500 for the 50th victory in the 329th start of his career — joining A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers with at least 50 wins.

RESULTS: Click here for where everyone finished Saturday at Gateway

With five races remaining, Dixon has a seemingly insurmountable 117-point lead on defending series champion Josef Newgarden in the championship standings.

“It’s totally awesome,” Dixon said on NBCSN. “I can’t thank the PNC Bank crew enough. That was a superb race all day. Sato was coming strong at the end, and I didn’t realize how strong he was coming. We were going into reserve mode to look after the engine, and he was coming with a head of steam.

“Just so happy for this team. Last week at Indianapolis was a bit of a bummer. So it’s nice to get a win, (and it be) 50! That sounds awesome. We’re going to keep on trucking and get a few more.”

Sato, who will start on pole position in Sunday’s race, nearly made it two consecutive victories, charging up to second during the final stint after a daring pass of third-place finisher Pato O’Ward.

Sato might have snatched the lead from Dixon if his last pit stop hadn’t been slow. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver said that was frustrating “but everyone is on the same feeling, and the boys did a fantastic job two weeks in a row.

“We carried a lot of momentum,” Sato, who moved up two positions to fourth in the points, said on NBCSN. ‘We lost some pace at the beginning of the race. I wasn’t entirely comfortable in the car. But we fought strong. I’m very proud of the team.”

O’Ward finished third after leading a race-high 94 of 200 laps.

The Arrow McLaren SP driver fell behind Dixon after his final green-flag stop on Lap 164 (“they just nailed it; that’s what you have to do,” Dixon said of his pit crew) and then lost second to Sato.

“I thought we had very strong pace all race,” O’Ward said. “We rolled out of the gates very strong, very consistent throughout the run. I don’t know what these guys do in the end. Dixon got ahead of us in the pits and then just left us. Then Sato just left us, too.”

Said fourth-place finisher Colton Herta: “I thought we had the podium, and then Takuma came out and totally surprised everyone on track.”

Herta still salvaged a tough day for Andretti Autosport, which lost three of its five cars in a crash before the green flag.

With his first checkered flag at Gateway, Dixon now has victories at 23 IndyCar tracks.

“That was a textbook Scott Dixon race today,” team owner Chip Ganassi told NBCSN pit reporter James Hinchcliffe. “Steady. One at a time. Nothing fancy. Couldn’t be more happy for him.”

Marcus Ericsson finished fifth, followed by Rinus VeeKay, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Felix Rosenqvist, Tony Kanaan and Conor Daly.

The IndyCar Series will race Gateway again Sunday with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).