PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Scott Dixon salvaged his championship run with an improbable comeback at Portland International Raceway that put him in control of his race to a fifth IndyCar title.
Dixon finished fifth, far behind race winner Takuma Sato, but put together the kind of drive that may define his season. He started 11th, was collected in an opening-lap crash, penalized for speeding on pit road and twice drove through the field from 20th.
His Chip Ganassi Racing team was forced to change its strategy several times, and caution flags helped Dixon cycle ahead of the other championship contenders. He goes to the Sept. 16 season finale with a 29-point over Alexander Rossi.
Rossi had a decent race Sunday but finished eighth and lost three points to Dixon.
“Huge day for the team, feels like a win for us,” Dixon said. “The points, whatever it is, is not a huge amount.”
Team Penske drivers Will Power and Josef Newgarden started on the front row and are the only other drivers mathematically eligible to win the championship. Newgarden finished 10th and it was a terrible day for Power, the Indianapolis 500 winner. He had a mechanical problem eight laps into the race seemed to make his car stall as he pulled out of the way and conceded the lead to Rossi.
Power later went off course into a tire barrier and finished 21st.
Sato, meanwhile, used fuel strategy to win his third career IndyCar race and first since he won the Indianapolis 500 last season. The victory was his first with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Ryan Hunter-Reay nearly caught Sato over the final two laps but wound up second. Sebastien Bourdais, the last winner of an open wheel race at Portland in 2007, was third.
Portland hosted 24 consecutive open wheel events but none the last 11 years. The return of IndyCar was met by enthusiastic fans and a Pacific Northwest crowd starving for a look at major league racing. The fans got a show when the race began with a multi-car accident that sent Marco Andretti through the air, over two cars and upside down into the dirt.
It was the same crash that collected Dixon and should have ruined his race and perhaps his championship chances. Stuck in the dirt, he put his car in reverse and drove away with minimal damage. Then, his improbable finish has made the title his to lose.
“I couldn’t see anything once I got off the in the dirt, it was just dust everywhere,” Dixon said. “Then I kept getting hit and hit and thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to be good.’ “
WICKENS UPDATE: Sam Schmidt visited injured driver Robert Wickens in the hospital before traveling to Portland.
Schmidt, a quadriplegic since his own crash in 2000, waited until Wickens was transferred to Indianapolis earlier this week to visit the Canadian. Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in an Aug. 19 crash at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
Schmidt said a positive attitude and strong support system will be critical in Wickens’ recovery.
“He’s determined, he’s a fighter, very focused,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt will return to Indianapolis to see Wickens again after Wickens undergoes surgery on his ankles later this week.
ANOTHER BAD CRASH: Marco Andretti was not injured when his car flipped upside down and landed cockpit-first in the dirt.
Andretti’s car launched over two others in an accordion-type accident on the opening lap of the race. He thought he was hit from behind by Graham Rahal as Andretti tried to squeeze through the wreckage.
“I was really lucky when my head was on the ground nobody else hit me because that was going to be bad,” Andretti said.
Footage of the crash from the camera aboard James Hinchcliffe’s car showed Andretti’s car sailing over his head. Three races ago, the camera on Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car captured ho close Wickens came to clipping Hunter-Reay’s head.
NO-CALL: IndyCar did not issue a penalty after the accident at the start of the race and Graham Rahal felt Zach Veach should have been sanctioned.
Veach and James Hinchcliffe were racing for position when the cars ran out of room on the track. Veach didn’t lift and contact between his car and Hinchcliffe triggered the crash that ended with Andretti upside down.
“I mean, Veach, come on, there’s just no room,” Rahal said after watching a replay. “And then our officials take no action, which is very typical for our officials.”
Ed Jones was also knocked out of the race and pointed fault at Veach.
“It looked like Veach and Hinch were side-by-side and Veach just turned into Hinch like nobody was there,” Jones said.
UP NEXT: The IndyCar finale Sept. 16 at Sonoma Raceway in California. The race is worth double points.