Scott Dixon led a Ganassi 1-2-3 sweep of Sunday’s Pocono 400, the first time in 24 years that Indycars have raced at the Pennsylvania tri-oval. After looking like non-contenders through most of the weekend, Dixon, Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti came through to score a surprising sweep for Ganassi and Honda, thus recording Ganassi and sponsor Target’s 90th IndyCar win and 100th victory in all categories including NASCAR and Grand-Am. It also marked Honda’s 200th IndyCar win.
For much of the way it looked like pole winner Marco Andretti was going to score his first win of the year. After taking the pole at 221.273mph Marco led most of the race in his Chevrolet-powered Andretti Autosports Dallara, but he had to conserve fuel at the end and fell back to finish a deeply frustrated 10th. In fact, Andretti ran out of fuel on the last lap and coasted to a stop on the track.
Meanwhile, the top Honda-powered cars had no such worries about fuel mileage as Dixon came through to take his first win since Mid-Ohio last August and Chip Ganassi’s first win this year. Ganassi was as surprised as anyone. “Coming here this morning from Daytona last night, I had no idea we would win, or finish 1-2-3,” Ganassi said. “I was just hoping for a decent finish today and I want to thank everybody involved in this team for pulling this off today. It’s nice. Hopefully we’ve turned the corner.”
Dixon agreed with his boss. “Going into this morning I was not thinking we could win,” Dixon grinned. “The team definitely hasn’t given up and you’ve got to hand it to Honda. We had speed up front without having to save fuel all the time. It’s fantastic. I’m so happy. I love this place. The fans and everybody have been fantastic and it’s great to be back in the winner’s circle.
“It means a lot,” Dixon added. “There’s no doubt that the Honda teams have been the underdogs lately. We’ve had our own problems as a team and for us to get back here is a fantastic day.”
Charlie Kimball has run well in quite a few races this year but second at Pocono is the best result of his career. “We worked hard on our race set up,” Kimball said. “The whole team worked together to make this one-two-three happen. My guys made my car better on each pitstop and it got quicker and quicker. A lot of credit goes to Honda. They gave us the fuel mileage and speed.
“We had a lot of fun all day. When you’ve got a good car and you’re running up front it’s always fun. Chip has always said we’re one team and it’s great to get the team headed in the right direction. I think we’re in good shape for the rest of the year.”
Dario Franchitti made the podium for the first time this year and was equally happy. “It’s very gratifying,” Dario said. “We struggled yesterday and we had a bit of a sit-down with Honda afterwards. Honda did a great job with the fuel mileage today. We still haven’t got the power but they’ve been working so hard and you saw that today with the fuel mileage we had.
“I tried hard at the end but I just couldn’t get close enough to make something happen. If there was a gap I could surely close up quickly, but it was hard. Turn three was really slippery. A lot of it is timing here and keeping the momentum up. We had some great pitstops today and some hard racing. The Chevys showed they have the power in qualifying but the Honda is very good on fuel mileage and you saw that today.
“And Chip’s happy. That’s good. It’s been a while since we saw a smile on his face and that goes for me too.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay ran second behind teammate Andretti in the early stages but he was hit by Takuma Sato on their way into the pits for their second stops. Hunter-Reay’s car was damaged but he was able to rejoin twenty-two laps down after repairs to finish twentieth. “I misjudged it,” Sato admitted. “I’m very sorry. I apologise to Ryan and his team. It was my mistake.”
Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan ran near the front in the early laps but damaged a front wing when he hit Scott Dixon. Kanaan had to pit for repairs and lost a lap, eventually coming home 13th.
Helio Castroneves finished eighth and increased his championship lead over Hunter-Reay from eight to 23 points. “It was a tough race, difficult to pass,” Castroneves said. “There was a lot of thinking required. We had to save a lot of fuel, but the car was good and we could pass people. It was exciting.”
Despite a modest turn-out of fans, the folks at Pocono said they sold more tickets than they had projected and couldn’t have been more pleased with the return of Indycars to Pocono. Josef Newgarden drove a fine race to finish fifth and raved about the track.
“Pocono is incredible,” he declared. “This is a great Indycar track. It’s wide, it’s fast and I think we had great racing out there today. IndyCar has got to come back here. This is a great place for us to race.”