Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda won the race, and Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing won the Championship. It was 18th career win for RHR. It was the fifth career Championship for Dixon. It was the 14th and last Verizon IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway.
Neither driver was seriously challenged for his particular victory, and both only lost their particular positions when cycling through pit stops. Pole sitter Hunter-Reay never ran lower than third overall. Dixon ran comfortably in second for most of the race, save for a brief spell early on when he ran fourth, and for several laps when he ran ninth after a pit stop 25 laps from the end.
RHR led three times for 80 of the 85 lap race. He said “To end this way is unreal. I dedicate this win to Robby Wickens. We’re all with him. We wish he were here today. He would have made my race harder for sure. Today was great. I felt like the race just didn’t want to end. I guess that’s what happens when you spend the whole day out front. Any time I needed the pace to put it down, we leaped out to a lead. I was able to maintain that. Hats off to this team.”
Dixon has won all five championships for Chip Ganassi Racing and with Mike Hull as his strategist. He said “It’s all about the people. I’m just the lucky one who got to carry the car across the line today. I can’t believe that it’s actually happened. I can’t thank everybody enough for this, it’s so cool! This doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. We had a lot of grit. We had a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong today.”
Chip Ganassi said “He’s the guy on the track, off the track. If you take a piece of stone, inject some brains into it, chisel it out, it’s Scott Dixon. He’s just the man.”
“I’m so, so lucky to have the group of people I get to work with every day, show up on the weekends, be a part of this team. I can’t tell you what the team means to me, what it means to be a part of a team.”
“When you talk about records – A.J., Mario, all these guys – obviously Scott’s name is in that group now.”
Mike Hull said “When you win a race, it validates who you are. When you win a championship, it defines the culture of not only the people that all of you saw today at the racetrack, both for the 9 and 10 car team, they fully support each other, but all the people in the building, then all the partners.
“That culture continues to grow. It never gets old. It just feeds on itself. As you go through time, we’ve gone through 12 of these championships now, there’s very few of us left that were here in 1996 at Laguna Seca when we won our first championship. But some of us still are. Now the millennial group that’s coming in to work for us are well-mentored. We had a few of them working for us today on the 9 car. That’s really gratifying.”
The start didn’t go well for Contender Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda, who had the best chance of beating Dixon for the Championship. Rossi was running behind teammate, Marco Andretti/No.93 U.S. Concrete/Curb, who appeared to brake check. Rossi rear-ended him, damaging his front wing and punctured a tire. Rossi shortcut the course at Turn 7 on his way back to the pits, where his crew changed his wing and tires. He said “I don’t know what happened on the first lap. After the mistake I made the crew worked hard to get me on my way.” He rejoined the race in last place, and worked his way back onto the lead lap. This started his slow path and then accelerated charge through the field. Rossi ran as high as fifth near the end of the race, before his worn tires slowed him. He finished seventh overall, 53 points behind Dixon for second place in the standings.
Rossi said “It’s very unfortunate what happened in Turn 1 on Lap 1. It’s a situation I’m sure we’ll all replay a lot of times but, at the end of the day, it’s been a good 2018 and I am very appreciative for all the support we’ve had this year. We came pretty close and we’ll work on the things we need to be better on and come back stronger next year.”
Andretti said ” I would’ve liked it to have gone a bit better. Rossi was amazingly quick and we tried to make it easy on him out of the pits and give him a shot. It was pretty cool of them; they knew I gave them the position, and they gave it back there at the end, so we were able to come out with a top five.”
Dixon’s reaction to the the Rossi-Andretti incident – “I don’t know. With IndyCar racing, you think somebody that has a problem in the first corner, they tend to go on and win the race. (as Dixon did at the last race in Portland.) I’m like, Oh, no. I’ve been in that situation. I’m like, Please, let that not be today.”
Contender Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet started seventh and worked his way up to first by Lap 17 when the leaders pitted. He fell back when pitting, never further than sixth, and mostly ran third-fifth overall. Power led twice, for four laps. He finished third overall. He said “”It was a really good race for the No. 12 Verizon team. We had a really, really fast car. I think if we would have started farther up front, we would have had a chance to win. It was a good year though. Roger (Penske) got his 500th win today. (Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski/No.2 Autotrader Ford won the NASCAR Cup Playoffs race in Las Vegas.) We won the Indy 500. We won the 200th INDYCAR race for Team Penske. We won the Brickyard 400. Just couldn’t get the championship here. But overall, it was a good year for Team Penske.”
Contender/Defending Champion Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet didn’t fare as well as is fellow Contender/teammate. He started third, and led once for a lap, but mostly ran between seventh and ninth. Newgarden finished the race in eighth position. He said “”It was not a great day. It really all started with the first pit stop. We just had a mistake in trying to get out and I stalled it. It kind of ruined the whole day from that point there on. It was tough to recover after that. I think we had a lot of potential today and we could have contended for the win, but it was too hard to come back.”
Finishing fourth through sixth were Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, Andretti, and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
The top Rookie was Patricio O’Ward/No.8 Harding Group Chevrolet, in ninth place. He started fifth, but fell back early on, which he said was due to tires. “It’s just really hard when you first go on those reds, they’re so soft, you really have to know how to manage them. For the second reds that I got, I did a way better job. Like I say, it’s just things that you have to learn in the moment. I learned a lot of things today. I know a lot more than what I came into the weekend with.” The young Mexican driver slowly worked his way back to the top ten by Lap 60, where he ran for the rest of the race.
There was only one five-lap caution to retrieve a stranded Graham Rahal/No.15 TOTAL Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “The car just quite on me” he said. The battery exploded. Once towed to the pits, the team determined it was battery-related and got him back on course. He finished twenty-third, 19 laps down.
Two drivers retired with mechanical problems – Rahal’s RLL teammate, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack Panasonic Honda – mechanical failure; and Spencer Pigot/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet with gearbox issues. Both Sato and Pigot have re-signed with their respective teams.
Four drivers were assessed penalties. Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet got a Drive Through penalty for avoidable contact with Carlos Munoz/No.6 Arrows SPM Honda in Turn 11. Rookie Zach Veach/No.26 Group 1001 Andretti Autosport Honda had to yield a position to Rookie Jordan King/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing. Two drivers will receive post race monetary fines for Pit Safety infractions – Carlin Racing teammates, Matt Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Chevrolet and Charlie Kimball/No.23 Tresiba Chevrolet. Chilton hit equipment.
There had been a “brief delay” to the IndyCar start, due to the NASCAR race in Las Vegas still running its final laps. Then, the IndyCar coverage started on CNBC while NASCAR finally finished its beleaguered playoffs race. Once NASCAR was done, IndyCar reverted back to NBCSN. Must have wreaked havoc for those recording one or both, and/or keep watch both.
1. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
2. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
3. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
5. (4) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
6. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
7. (6) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
8. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
9. (5) Patricio O’Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (14) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running
11. (20) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 85, Running
12. (18) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running
13. (25) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (10) Zach Veach, Honda, 85, Running
15. (15) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
16. (13) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 85, Running
17. (16) Jack Harvey, Honda, 85, Running
18. (22) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 85, Running
19. (23) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 85, Running
20. (19) Colton Herta, Chevrolet, 85, Running
21. (21) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 84, Running
22. (24) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 76, Running
23. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 66, Running
24. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 38, Mechanical
25. (12) Takuma Sato, Honda, 15, Mechanical
Top photo of Ryan Hunter-Reay by Pablo Matamoros. Top photo of Scott Dixon by Nico Matamoros. Bottom photo of RHR and Dixon by Nico Matamoros.