SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Scott Dixon pulled in for his final pit stop with victory nearly in his grasp. When he left a few seconds later, two members of Will Power’s crew were sprawled on the asphalt, a tire bouncing wildly in his wake.
Although everybody involved had a strong opinion about what happened, Power knows one thing for certain: He’s leaving wine country with yet another trophy.
Power won at Sonoma Raceway for the third time in four years Sunday, earning his first victory of the IndyCar season by taking advantage of Dixon’s penalty for making contact with Power’s Team Penske pit crew.
“I don’t like to see the call that had to take place, but everybody saw it,” Roger Penske said. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way racing is.”
Dixon led until he received a drive-through penalty with 15 laps to go for clipping a tire in the left hand of Power’s tire holder when Dixon’s Honda left his pit directly behind Power’s Chevrolet. The tire holder went flying into another crew member, and a third member was injured by an air gun or hose.
Dixon thought Power’s crew got in his way on purpose, leaving him angry and confused by IndyCar’s latest call against him.
He finished 15th and lost a bit of ground on overall IndyCar leader Helio Castroneves, Power’s Penske teammate, who finished seventh. Castroneves’ lead over Dixon grew from 31 to 39 points (479-440) with four races left in the IndyCar season.
“That’s probably the most blatant thing I’ve seen in a long time,” Dixon said. “You watch most pit guys, they try to get out of the way of other people, so that was a bit of a (classless) move, to be honest. … If that’s the way they want to try and win, that’s pretty bad.”
Power scoffed at the notion any gamesmanship occurred in his first victory since early last season in Sao Paulo. He’s the only multiple IndyCar winner in Sonoma, where he’s been dominant since he broke his back in a crash in 2009.
“It reminds me of so many things that’s happened to us in the last three years, so we’ll take it,” said Power, the 10th IndyCar winner this season. “I would be very surprised (if it was intentional). I haven’t seen it. It’s not even worth commenting on. … I really thought we’d win before (now), but we just kept at it and worked hard and were fast all weekend.”
Dixon has been burned by IndyCar’s curious penalty decisions before. In Milwaukee last year, IndyCar acknowledged it looked at the wrong replay and made an incorrect call when it ordered Dixon to serve a drive-through penalty for jumping a restart.
But race director Beaux Barfield stood behind his latest call against Dixon, saying the lines painted in the pit box don’t correspond to the actual spaces afforded to the teams. IndyCar rules mandate penalties for drivers who make contact with pit crew members.
“If we have somebody that uses less-than-great judgment when they leave their pit box, and we have an incident, then certainly we’ve got to make a statement by penalizing (that driver),” Barfield said. “The lines are a little bit confusing, because we don’t go in and change the lines everywhere we go.
“There’s a different angle, if you looked at, you can see the difference between the Target and the Verizon signs on the wall. With the No. 9 car (Dixon) leaving the pit lane, he clearly crosses right into the pit box into the No. 12 car (Power) space, and that’s where the violation occurred.”
Dixon’s team saw it differently.
“The guy turned his back and carried the tire into Dixon’s side,” Chip Ganassi Racing team manager Mike Hull said. “He walked into us, so if that sets the precedent, in the next race, that means somebody can walk into us with a tire in their hand.”
All three crew members were fine to continue after a bit of ice.
Dixon’s penalty dropped him 19 seconds behind Power into 21st, and Power carefully maintained his lead for a victory on the same course where he was seriously injured four years ago, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
“I think they’re way overplaying this thing, as far as I’m concerned,” Penske said. “Someone got hit, went up in the air. Obviously, the 9 car was too close to our crew, had an accident there. The outcome is obvious.”
Dixon’s brush with Power’s crew highlighted an uncommonly eventful race in Sonoma, a twisty road course that usually doesn’t allow much drama or passing.
Penske got into a finger-pointing argument post-race with Marco Andretti, who made contact with Power late in the race. Third-place finisher Dario Franchitti was mad at Team Penske, feeling Power drove him off the track with no penalty.
Justin Wilson was second. Castroneves finished behind Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
With strong wind and dust all over the course, the race featured a record seven cautions for various collisions and stalls. Sebastian Saavedra crashed heavily into a barrier with four laps to go.