Strategy on pit road turned out to play a crucial part in determining who would contend for the win at the end of the Pocono IndyCar 400 fueled by Sunoco, in the open wheel return to Pocono Raceway for the first time since 1989.
Chip Ganassi's three cars started no better than 12th at the start, due to an unapproved engine change which penalized drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti ten positions on the starting grid.
The start was halted almost immediately when James Hinchcliffe's car snapped loose on the outside and hit the Turn 1 SAFER barrier The Iowa winner noted Saturday that they had been battling understeer in Turn 1, and with an aggressive setup under them it ended their day before completing a green flag lap.
On the restart, Marco Andretti picked up where had left off the entire weekend and set the pace. An early sign was evident about how fuel strategy would play a role for this 160 lap race. Andretti headed to the pits on lap 30, a couple laps before the other leaders. Despite this, Andretti inherited the lead back once pit stops cycled around.
The second and final caution of the day came out during the next round of green flag stops. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato came down pit road on lap 61 when Sato locked up his tires trying to slow down, made contact with Hunter-Reay, and sent the 2012 series champion into the outside pit wall. This would eliminate both drivers from contention.
Meanwhile, Tony Kanaan would take the lead before Andretti would get back around him. Kanaan took a turn at the lead after the next round of pit stops, but made slight contact with Scott Dixon during the pass. The contact forced Kanaan to make a front wing change and lost a lap, knocking him out of contention for the one million dollar Fuzzy's Triple Crown prize.
Dixon's team turned in some stellar pit stops and managed fuel consumption throughout the race in order to make up spots on the track. Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti followed suit, and with less than fifty laps to go all three cars were in the top seven.
While the three Ganassi cars continued making up time on the track, Andretti's day began to go in the wrong direction. In an attempt to conserve fuel, Andretti slowed his pace and gave up the lead to Will Power on lap 122. Andretti pitted with 33 laps remaining, and would fade to a tenth place finish after running out of fuel coming to the checker.
The final lead change of the race took place during the last round of pit stops when Dixon once again had the fastest service. Dixon steadily held off teammates Kimball and Franchitti the rest of the way for his 30th career win, 100th for sponsor Target and 200th for Honda. He is also the eighth different winner in eleven races in 2013.
Dixon and owner Chip Ganassi were just as surprised to pull off the remarkable feat.
"Going into this morning, I was not thinking we could win. The team definitely hasn't given up, and you've got to hand it to Honda, as well. I think fuel mileage was the key today" an elated Dixon recapped.
Ganassi Racing's 2013 season has been nothing short of disappointing, but Ganassi remarked that maybe this has changed things for the better.
"It's pretty big, I'll tell you. I had no idea we'd go 1-2-3. I was just hoping for a decent finish today. Everybody across all of our teams contributed today. It's nice. Hopefully we've turned the corner."
Points leader Helio Castroneves finished eighth, but extended his point lead due to the misfortune of the other drivers that entered the race in the top five.
Official race results can be found below:
1. Scott Dixon
2. Charlie Kimball
3. Dario Franchitti
4. Will Power
5. Josef Newgarden
6. Simon Pagenaud
7. Justin Wilson
8. Helio Castroneves
9. Ed Carpenter
10. Marco Andretti
11. Simona De Silvestro
12. James Jakes
13. Tony Kanaan
14. Ryan Briscoe
15. Pippa Mann
16. Sebastien Bourdais
17. Alex Tagliani
18. Graham Rahal
19. Tristan Vautier
20. Ryan Hunter-Reay
21. E.J. Viso
22. Takuma Sato
23. Sebastian Saavedra
24, James Hinchcliffe