LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Through two races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon was off to his worst start since 2009.
It certainly was too early to be overly concerned, he said, following 15th- and 11th-place finishes. Maybe, but his results in eight previous starts in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach -- one top-five finish -- wouldn't necessarily pump up the three-time series champion's confidence entering the 80-lap race.
Qualifying third -- his best on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn seaside street circuit -- was a positive and overtaking Juan Pablo Montoya on Lap 2 showed that the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet had the pace. When Dixon beat Verizon P1 Award winner Helio Castroneves off pit lane on the first service stop on Lap 29 of 80 to take the lead, he wasn't to be denied in the race that had only one caution for four laps.
Dixon's first victory at Long Beach was his 36th overall, breaking a tie with Bobby Unser for fifth on the all-time Indy car list. Al Unser is fourth with 39 victories. It was the 98th Indy car victory for team owner Chip Ganassi.
Castroneves was held in his pit box by chief mechanic Travis Law to avoid contact with the incoming No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet driven by Tony Kanaan. The extra second was critical. And though the crew of the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California entry had a blazing second and final stop on Lap 55, Dixon was six-tenths of a second ahead of Castroneves on his out lap entering Turn 1.
Kanaan broke up a Team Penske podium sweep in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., and Dixon did the same at Long Beach.
"This is huge. I love the event, but as far as coming here and doing well it hadn't been on that list. That pit stop exchange definitely helped us get to the lead but the car was fast and all we had to do was maintain that lead," Dixon said.
Castroneves, who finished 2.2221 seconds back, forged his second consecutive runner-up finish and 37th of his career to tie Bobby Rahal for second on the all-time list (Mario Andretti with 56 is first).
"My AAA car was awesome and we were pretty good all the way," Castroneves said. “The guys did a great job in the pits and especially the (close call) between me and Ganassi. It was just perfect. It was better to be safe than sorry, but it was a great job overall for Team Penske. At the end of the day, second place is not bad.”
Castroneves closed from 10 points back of Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya to three points of the front-runner. Montoya, who won at St. Petersburg, placed third in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
Simon Pagenaud finished fourth and Kanaan also earned his second top-five finish of the young season. Sebastien Bourdais placed sixth and Josef Newgarden was seventh. Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and Sebastian Saavedra completed the top 10.
Dixon also tied Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Castroneves atop the all-time list with an Indy car victory in 11 consecutive seasons, and he has 13 seasons with at least one victory. A.J. Foyt with 18 is the leader and Mario Andretti with 16 is second.
"Long Beach is never an easy place to win and Scott Dixon did a great job today and so did his pit crew to get him out front," said Unser, who four days earlier was honored in Long Beach by the Road Racing Drivers Club. "Racing is a team effort and both Scott and his crew earned the win, my congratulations to them. Scott is a smart, smooth driver and once again proved it. Scott Dixon has a big, big abundance of talent and he has proven it over the years.
"He wins driving on any type of course he races his Indy car on. Scott wins on ovals, big and small; street courses and road courses. I remember last year he came from dead last to win at Mid-Ohio. Scott Dixon has talent and skill and will win races for years and years to come."
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power had a tough weekend in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. He qualified 18th and on Lap 7 stalled on the pit lane entrance under caution.
"I feel bad for the Verizon Chevy team," said Power, who finished 20th. :They worked so hard and me finishing P20 was a result of a bad day in qualifying. I didn't get it done and it was snow ball effect from there. Today I made mistakes and I stalled the car on pit road during the first pit stop. Was hoping for a top-10 finish but it didn't happen. It makes me more motivated to make up for it the next couple races."
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 26 on the Barber Motorsports Park road course in Birmingham, Ala., will be the third race in as many weeks.
Conor Daly, who was called by team owner Dale Coyne an hour before the morning practice April 18 to fill in for the injured Rocky Moran Jr., qualified 21st in his second Verizon IndyCar Series start and brought the No. 18 Honda home with nary a scratch in 17th place.