- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Scott Dixon went into the 92nd Indianapolis 500 as the undisputed favorite to win the race.
One by one, a series of drivers stepped up to try to rattle the 27-year-old New Zealand native. But Dixon fought off every challenge and will be rewarded at Monday night's Indianapolis 500 Victory Banquet with a check for more than $2 million.
With that much money on the line -- a 40 percent increase from last year -- an Indy victory clearly meant more than ever. Yet individually or collectively, Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Tomas Scheckter, Marco Andretti and Vitor Meira and their teams couldn't beat Dixon and his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew.
"There was no point in the race where we were overconfident or knew we could win this thing easy," Dixon said. "Especially towards the end when you had sleepers like Meira come out, and he was super fast. You could see Helio [Castroneves] was coming up, and we knew Marco was fast all day.
"At no point did I think we had this in the bank, and I was almost waiting for something to go wrong."
Something did go wrong, but not for Dixon. Here's what happened to each of his challengers:
As Dixon predicted, his Ganassi teammate Wheldon wanted to lead the race. Dixon was prepared to let him do so early in the 200-lap contest. Wheldon led four times for 30 of the first 94 laps, but then the handling of his No. 10 Dallara-Honda went off. In-car camera shots graphically demonstrated how hard Wheldon was working just to keep the car off the wall.
My issue all day was with the right rear of the car," said Wheldon, who faded to a 12th-place finish in the second half of the race. "It was OK in the first few stints, but it seemed to get worse and worse as the race went on. It was very difficult.
My issue all day was with the right rear of the car. It was OK in the first few stints, but it seemed to get worse and worse as the race went on. It was very difficult.
-- Dan Wheldon
Team owner Ganassi verified the car was the reason for Wheldon's second-half slide.
"Something is wrong with that car, I can tell you," Ganassi said. "You know, the thing just lost all its speed at once. First we thought we got rubber [pickup] on the tires and that wasn't it, and he kept complaining about the right-rear corner of the car.
"I'll be interested to see. We might have a broken shock or something."
The Brazilian seemed to hit his stride after the Lap 85 round of pit stops. The race went green on Lap 91, and three laps later, TK took the lead. That move established a record, as Kanaan became the first driver in history to lead seven consecutive Indianapolis 500s, breaking Rick Mears' record of six (1979 to '84).
Alas, seven was not Kanaan's lucky number. On the 106th lap, he got hung up in traffic exiting Turn 2, allowing Dixon to make a clean outside pass for the lead into Turn 3. Marco Andretti, Kanaan's teammate at Andretti Green Racing, tried to follow suit on the inside, but the move came late and forced the 7-Eleven car out of the groove and into the gray.
Kanaan almost caught the sliding car as it skimmed along the Turn 3-4 short chute wall, but it snapped into a slow spin before being T-boned by the speeding car driven by Sarah Fisher.
"Tell him I'm sorry," Andretti pleaded on his car-to-pit radio.
"He better be," Kanaan responded to ABC's Jamie Little. "I think it was a very stupid move, especially on a teammate. Me being a good teammate, I didn't want to turn into him because to take two cars out of the race in the same team was not going to be good.
"So I gave up this time. I'm not very happy about it, but as usual, I'm in the lead and something happens."
Uninjured, Kanaan and Fisher climbed from their wrecked cars. Though obviously unhappy about the way his own race ended, Kanaan had to console a distraught owner/driver Fisher during the short ambulance ride to the infield medical center.
"My God, I feel so sorry for her," Kanaan said of Fisher, who reportedly put her life savings into making Indy and now has a seriously damaged car to repair. "I hugged her and said I was sorry, and she was apologizing to me. I said, 'Cry everything you can cry in here, but come outside with a smile. Because otherwise you're going to make me feel bad.'"
It should be an interesting postrace debrief at AGR because just like in Andretti's controversial incident with then-teammate Dario Franchitti at Infineon Raceway in 2007, AGR team owner Michael Andretti initially seemed to take his son's side Sunday rather than the team's.
"It's a tough call," the owner said. "TK I guess was just surprised he was there. Should Marco have been there? I don't know.
"I think we were just starting to get our cars dialed into the conditions and things. It's a shame because Tony was really strong in the 7-Eleven car."
The third-year driver led 15 laps after the incident with Kanaan as AGR team manager Ziggy Harcus worked hard to keep the young driver's emotions under control.
We made a little bit of a mistake and trimmed the car in midrace, which was a team decision. Had we been in front in clean air, that would have been the way to go. But we fell to fourth and were trimmed out and had lost the track position.
-- Marco Andretti
"You had a clean run on Tony," Harcus said into the radio. "He just got up on the dirt and spun. He was actually OK and was going to save it, but got hit by Fisher.
"Just concentrate on the job at hand. Good job."
Andretti actually lost his chance to win the race through the setup changes AGR made to his car in the second half, and he addressed that immediately in his postrace news conference.
"We made a little bit of a mistake and trimmed the car in midrace, which was a team decision," Andretti said. "Had we been in front in clean air, that would have been the way to go. But we fell to fourth and were trimmed out and had lost the track position."
The media was more interested in hearing Andretti's version of the incident with Kanaan.
"I had a huge run, and I went for it," he said. "Maybe it was a bit too late. You hate to see this stuff happening with teammates, but I went for it. Obviously if a little bit of that is my fault, I feel absolutely horrible.
"Maybe it was a bit last-minute, but I don't know about if it was a stupid move," he later added. "Maybe he didn't expect it to be coming, I'll put it that way. But you know, we didn't touch, and I didn't take his air away."
Andretti now has a second- and third-place finish in three Indianapolis 500 starts. Discounting Michael Andretti's two wins as a team owner, the Andretti family's last victory at the Brickyard came when Marco's grandfather Mario triumphed in 1969.
The South African never led, but he stayed in the top five all day for Luczo Dragon Racing, a part-time IndyCar Series team co-owned by Jay Penske, Roger Penske's son. Just when people were starting to believe the fiery Scheckter could finish or even win a 500-mile race, the No. 12 Dallara-Honda failed to make it out of the pits on Lap 156 after a routine stop.
"It was just a [broken] driveshaft," Scheckter said. "It is a pity, but these things sometimes happen. The last stop of the Indy 500 is the worst time."
Scheckter maintained that he was saving a bit for the final sprint. "I was just conserving fuel by driving at 90 percent," he said. "Just when I wanted to give it a go and see what I could do, it happened. That's racing."
Meira and Panther Racing were the month's sleepers and the sentimental favorite among longtime IRL fans. The Brazilian led Lap 160 to Lap 171 and matched his career-best finish of second place, a result he also achieved at Indianapolis in 2005.
I did my job and we put ourselves in position to win. Again we had the car and we had the crew, it just didn't work out this time.
-- Vitor Meira
With a daring, darting move on Ed Carpenter and Dixon to go from third to first on Lap 160, Meira also provided the most exciting highlight clip of the race.
"I knew Carpenter wouldn't have a good restart because he was on old tires," Meira said. "Scott got a good restart, but I got advantage of the slipstream. And as soon as I saw the space outside after we passed Carpenter, I went there for some clean air, but then the car kept rolling and kept on going.
"I knew I was not going to have many opportunities from now on. I've got to take that, so I never lifted."
Dixon said the move wasn't as hairy from his perspective as it looked from the outside.
"I was aware what Vitor was up to the whole time," Dixon said. "He definitely came from a long way back."
Dixon's advantageous position at the head of pit lane helped him regain the lead from Meira on the final round of pit stops. The Panther driver held on for second but couldn't challenge Dixon for the win.
"I did my job, and we put ourselves in position to win," Meira said. "Again we had the car and we had the crew. It just didn't work out this time."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.