Dixon dominates IRL contest at Richmond

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2003

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Scott Dixon thought Richmond International Raceway looked like a go-kart track when he got his first look at it.

He made his first race on it look like child's play Saturday night, putting on the most dominant performance in IRL history. He led all 206 laps before rain washed out the finish of the SunTrust Indy Challenge.

''This is an awesome place to race,'' he said after posting his third victory in seven races in the series.

Dixon, who moved over from the CART series this year, became the first driver in IRL history to lead from start to finish. The race ended 44 laps short of the scheduled 250 when lightning arrived with the showers.

''We had the fastest car all weekend,'' said Dixon, who started from the pole. ''We didn't even have to work on it.''

The promise of the weather played into the strategy of Chip Ganassi's team, Dixon said.

''We knew going into the race that there was a chance of rain,'' he said. ''Basically what we wanted to do was make sure we were leading after the halfway mark, and luckily enough there was a yellow at like (lap) 130.

''It was pretty much easy for us to get home from there.''

Dixon outran Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran on restarts and long runs, and led Castroneves by more than four seconds at the finish.

''When the rain came out, there was still 50 laps to go,'' Castroneves said. ''It's a lot of race. A lot of things could happen, especially when the leaders start catching more fast drivers, but that's the way it goes.''

The last time either of Roger Penske's drivers seriously challenged was after a restart on lap 160, when Castroneves followed closely for several laps. But Dixon gradually pulled away, making quick work of lapped traffic and seeming to become more dominant as the laps ticked away.

With radar showing a big storm approaching, the IRL decided to shorten a race because of weather for only the second time in its history. The other time was in 1997, when Eddie Cheever won at Walt Disney World.

Castroneves finished second, followed by de Ferran and two-time series champion and defending race champion Sam Hornish Jr. He put on a dazzling show of driving after some misfortune dropped him in the field.

De Ferran, who led 168 laps here last season before Hornish passed him two laps from the finish, said all the leaders were driving hard at the finish, an almost unintentional tribute to Dixon's dominance.

From the last pit stop, ''the pace was super hard because we knew the rain was probably on the way and really, there was no holding back,'' de Ferran said. ''From that point it was just flat out ... qualifying pace.''

Hornish, who went from third to 15th on the grid after a pit-road crash into the car of Felipe Giaffone on lap 62, darted around everyone on his way to his third straight impressive run on the IRL's shortest track.

Two years ago, he finished second in the inaugural IRL race here.

''We had a really good handling car and some of the luck that we haven't had this year,'' said Hornish, who arrived here 10th in points. ''We haven't had the best of luck in the pits.''

The victory allowed Dixon to gain on series leader Tony Kanaan, trimming a 49-point deficit to 29. Kanaan, who finished fifth Saturday night, has 247 to Dixon's 218. Castroneves is third with 207 points and Indy 500 winner de Ferran has 202.

Hornish climbed to eighth, 93 points behind Kanaan with nine races left.

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