Dixon denied fifth championship by Penske and Newgarden
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After entering the IndyCar Series finale at the center of the championship battle, Scott Dixon has been beaten to the crown by new series champ Josef Newgarden — the pair finishing fourth and second respectively at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Dixon spent most of the race keeping pace with Newgarden and his Penske tail-gunners Will Power and Helio Castroneves. But ultimately he wasn't able to put up the fierce fight he needed to. Late traffic helped him close down the gap to the leaders, but it wouldn't make any changes at the front for race winner Simon Pagenaud, new champion Newgarden in second, and Power in third. Pagenaud's result also saw him beat Dixon to second in the points standings, dropping the Kiwi down to third overall.
The win for Newgarden is a welcome sight for the IndyCar Series world, as it represents the first time an American driver has won the title in five years. It's also Roger Penske's 15th IndyCar Series title.
The new champ led from the start, dominating the opening laps in front of his Penske Racing teammates Power, Castroneves, and Pagenaud. Dixon as able to survive the first-lap chaos to sit in fifth, ensuring that all five championship protagonists would fill the top-five spots.
With the top five all minding their own business early, strategy and preservation became the next point of focus. Pagenaud pitted first on lap 11, putting him off sequence with the rest of the contenders. Newgarden, Power, Castroneves, and Dixon pressed on, while Alexander Rossi took over fifth — though mechanical issues would rule him out a few laps later.
Dixon and Rossi stopped on lap 16, with Newgarden, Power, and Castroneves reacting on the following lap. In the shuffle Pagenaud took over the provisional lead, with Newgarden down second. Dixon had made time on Castroneves in the lane and through traffic, but couldn't capitalise initially. By around lap 20, everyone had made their first stop, leaving Pagenaud in front of Newgarden, Power, Castroneves, and Dixon in fifth.
The fiercest battle was that of Dixon versus Castroneves, the pair joined from behind by Graham Rahal. All the while, the gap between Dixon and his critical rival Newgarden grew more and more. By lap 30 it was up to 20 seconds. The Kiwi's next stop was on lap 39, with Newgarden and Power once again sticking together on lap 40 with reactionary pit stops. Unsurprisingly, they held on to their advantage at the front, and Dixon stayed behind Castroneves.
The joker in the pack was Pagenaud, who made his second stop on lap 30; in turn setting himself up for a four-stop race to the flag. On his strategy, the Frenchman needed to drive to his limits. His penultimate stop on what was a relatively straightforward race came on lap 48, and handed Newgarden and Power first and second on the road. Dixon's hope, it appeared, was for some safety car periods or for disaster to strike his rivals.
Pagenaud moved past Power for second with 30 laps to go, though he was still on an alternate strategy. With the fastest car on track underneath him, he inevitably pulled in Newgarden before taking the lead from him on lap 63 when the series leader pitted. The stop came one lap after Dixon's last stop; a stop that saw him finally get past Castroneves.
Pagenaud made his last stop on lap 64 and rejoined right in front of Newgarden. With the former on sticker blacks and the latter on relatively fresh red tyres, they almost collided as Newgarden ducked and dived to try and make a move. But he couldn't, and the battle mellowed over the following laps.
During this phase, Dixon was able to make healthy time on the leading Penske trio. It had shrunk from 15 seconds to less than 10, though it was still a tall task. With 10 laps to go, Newgarden was more than a second behind Pagenaud. Most of that margin disappeared soon enough thanks to traffic, with even Power closing in. Dixon's margin to the lead was down to five seconds, but when the traffic was cleared the margin swelled back out again to almost 10 seconds.
In the end, the race ended as many predicted; with a Penske 1-2-3 whitewash. Pagenaud claimed his second win of the year, which proved enough to steal second place in the title standings from Dixon. Castroneves, in what many are tipping to be the last IndyCar Series race of his career, finished fifth.
1. Simon Pagenaud
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Will Power
4. Scott Dixon
5. Helio Castroneves
6. Graham Rahal
7. Marco Andretti
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay
9. Sebastien Bourdais
10. Conor Daly
1. Josef Newgarden 642
2. Simon Pagenaud -13
3. Scott Dixon -21
4. Helio Castroneves -44
5. Will Power -80
6. Graham Rahal -120
7. Alexander Rossi -148
8. Takuma Sato -201
9. Ryan Hunter-Reay -221
10. Tony Kanaan -239