Commentary

Dixon understandably frustrated as title hopes slip away on final lap

Scott Dixon said he could have more easily dealt with losing the IndyCar Series title on "even terms." Running out of fuel on the final lap apparently didn't qualify, writes John Schwarb.

Updated: September 10, 2007, 12:06 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

JOLIET, Ill. -- From Scott Dixon's seat, there could not have been a worse way to go out.

With half a lap to go at Chicagoland Speedway, the Target/Ganassi driver had a title in sight. He was leading the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300, but more importantly he was leading Dario Franchitti, the man he had to beat for the title.

If Franchitti had regained steam and made a pass, that would have been fine. Well, not fine, but digestible.

But not running out of fuel. Something, anything but that.

Yet that was Dixon's fate on the last lap of the season, less than a mile from his second IndyCar Series title. He ran out of fuel, coasting up the track and allowing Franchitti -- with no signs of being low on fuel until the winner's podium a half-hour later -- to win the race and the championship.

"It's extremely frustrating for it to come down to a fuel race," Dixon said. "I can honestly take a beating gracefully if you get beat on even terms."

Dixon then pondered that thought and figured perhaps the title-deciding race was settled on even terms, given that every team had the same amount of ethanol, the same 22-gallon fuel cells. He and Franchitti pitted together on Lap 148, with only the Andretti Green Racing driver getting through Lap 200 under power.

But on even terms during the race, Dixon had much the better Dallara-Honda, consistently running at the front. Franchitti, starting on the pole, failed to lead the first lap and was shuffled to fourth by Lap 10 and fifth by Lap 26, settling in behind Dixon and Ganassi teammate Dan Wheldon and the Team Penske cars of Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves, where he would run the majority of the race.

"Most of the race I was just sitting there," Franchitti said. "I couldn't do anything. I couldn't pass the guys in front because they were running side-by-side and, at times, the car wasn't handling so well."

Franchitti was fortunate to be where he was, fighting a pushing condition early in the race, whereas Dixon was a competitor for the lead.

"The whole day was going pretty well, our car was good, we were good in traffic, we were working with the Penske guys pretty well," Dixon said. "We were definitely, for the championship, the guys to beat."

Franchitti only led nine laps before leading the final lap, and his two brief stints of leads (from Laps 89-92 and 136-140) came only after Dixon pitted.

But Dixon's better car may have beaten him in the end, as stints on the lead late in the race sapped him of precious fuel. He led from Laps 184-190 before allowing teammate Wheldon to pass and take the next three laps, but the 2005 champion ran out of fuel himself at 193.

"I'm going to ask him why he didn't park it on the bloody surface," Dixon joked.

That may have helped, so would have someone else taking the lead over Dixon. Anyone but Franchitti would have done the trick, but there were no takers.

"I was trying to get out of the throttle. I was running down to 210s [mph], 212s, to let guys by. Nobody wanted to lead," Dixon said.

On the Lap 198 restart following a caution for Danica Patrick's spin at the entrance to pit road, Dixon knew he was going to be tight on juice.

"I think we were at 21 or over 21 gallons on the meter, and I knew it was going to take a little bit more than that to do two laps," Dixon said.

It did, and Dixon didn't have it. He finished second -- in the race, in the points, in everything he was chasing in one afternoon.

"When you look at it, we were really only a corner away from it," Dixon said. "I think at that stage I was more worried that there wasn't any radio communication. Because when the radio is quiet there's something about to happen."

Something did -- the worst possible thing that could have occurred for someone wanting to race for a championship.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and is a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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