Dixon won for the 19th time in the IndyCar Series, tying Sam Hornish Jr.'s career victories record, and said the night could have been a turning point in the season.
While he and Franchitti gave Target Chip Ganassi Racing a 1-2 finish, the other dynamic team -- Team Penske -- had a miserable night in which neither Ryan Briscoe, the points leader at the start, or Helio Castroneves finished. Castroneves wound up 17th, Briscoe 19th.
"Any time you can make a gain on the Penskes, you've got to take that and try to run with it," said Dixon, who earned his series-best third win of the season. "Tonight was a big gain for us and could be a pivotal point of the season."
The result was better than the show that produced it, however, as the smallest oval in the IndyCar Series allowed for one-groove racing and almost no passing all night long.
"You just had to keep trying to follow the car in front of you," Dixon said.
Franchitti, who started first and led most of the first half of the race, found out how frustrating it had been for others to be behind Dixon.
"Once Scott got ahead, we tried our best to pass him, but we couldn't get it done," Franchitti said. "Nobody could pass. ... Everybody was out there hanging on."
Franchitti, who won this race and the series championship two years ago before a brief dalliance with NASCAR, moved past Briscoe and into the points lead, one ahead of Dixon.
But he knew it wasn't pretty.
"I have to apologize to the fans because that was an awful, awful race," he said.
But the front-runners stayed there with patience and a bit of good fortune.
Twice they held out just long enough -- watching most of the field head down pit road as the field zipped by under a green flag -- and got the yellow flags that made it pay off, allowing them to make stops without losing ground.
Patrick and Mutoh would likely have been poised to battle for the victory after out-of-sequence stops much later in the race, but needed green flag racing over the last 80 laps to allow them to be in position to assume the top spots when the leaders were forced to pit.
It didn't happen.
Castroneves scraped the wall on Lap 247 of 300, bringing out the last caution.
Rahal finished a season-best third, followed by Mutoh and Patrick.
The race was a rare disappointment for Team Penske as Briscoe spun out on just the 27th circuit, and Castroneves scraped the wall running in the top seven with 53 laps to go.
"I am not sure exactly what happened," Briscoe said. "It took me totally by surprise."
Castroneves said he had nowhere to go when the car in front of him suddenly slowed.
The finish was all about timing during the race, and the inability to pass.
Dixon grabbed the lead on pit road after Mike Conway crashed on the 137th circuit. He was followed back onto the track by Franchitti, Rahal, Mutoh and Patrick.
The AGR teammates hoped their last green-flag stops -- Mutoh on Lap 214, Patrick on 226 -- would set them up to assume the lead if the racing stayed green, but had no such luck.
Patrick, who had her fifth top-five finish in eight races, said her team will have to go back to work and figure out why it did so poorly in qualifying. She started 10th.