Scott Dixon did all he needed - and more - to clinch his second IndyCar Series title, coming within 0.033secs of adding a record seventh race win to a new mark for laps led in a season and the million dolar crown.

It was not all plain sailing for the Kiwi, who dropped as low as tenth in a race that saw some unexpected names coming to the fore, but he kept his head long enough to be right back in the frame at the final round of pit-stops, leading off pit-lane and heading into a head-to-head over the last twelve laps with title rival Helio Castroneves.

The Brazilian had risen from the very back of the grid after his misdemeanour in qualifying, and was leading by lap 77, when he won the race off pit-road, but was never in control of his own destiny, as Dixon kept a weather eye on proceedings right at the front. The pair were split by a near-record 0.033secs as they crossed the line for the final time, with the scorers initially giving the victory to Dixon before photo evidence proved otherwise.

Ryan Briscoe, who had proven an adequate wing man to Penske team-mate Castroneves, claimed the final podium spot to go with his pole position.

Briscoe led the field away once the race got underway at the second time of asking and, despite running side-by-side with the fast-starting Tony Kanaan for several laps, maintained the upper hand until the first caution, for Ed Carpenter's crash, on lap 37.

Carpenter had been impressive to that point, rising through the order to run inside the top five, but appeared to suffer a breakage on the Vision Racing Dallara that sent him hard into the wall. By the time the bright yellow machine had slid down to the infield, equally eye-catching flames were belching out of its side, but Carpenter was quickly extricated by the safety team.

Kanaan led the field off pit-road and continued to set the pace until Vitor Meira cut short his final appearance for Panther Racing by finding the turn two wall on lap 75. Dixon had run in the top three throughout the stint, but was well aware that Castroneves was closing on him, the red-and-white Penske machine growing ever larger in his mirrors until it slotted in right behind with a double move on the duelling Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon.

The two championship protagonists swapped places in traffic on lap 66, before Meira's accident slowed Helio's progress. The Penske driver, aware that he needed the three bonus points for leading the most laps, wasn't to be denied, however, and received a lightning service from his crew that allowed him to return to the fray at the head of the pack despite nearly collecting his team-mate as both exited their stalls together.

Dixon, who had been up at 6am to tend to his sick dog, received his first scare of the afternoon shortly after the restart, as EJ Viso's vivid black-and-green HVM car began to jink around in his mirrors. The rookie appeared capable of challenging the points leader but, perhaps aware of the comeback should they make contact, never actually put a move on the Kiwi.

Dixon's distraction meant that he may have been able to enjoy the show being put on at the front as Ganassi team-mate Wheldon - in his final race with the champion team - attempted to do his bit for the Kiwi's cause. Getting up to the two leading Penskes, the Briton stuck his nose in on the outside, forcing Castroneves and Briscoe to run three abreast for several laps, while the chasing pack ran two-wide in their wake.

The leading trio had only just decided that enough was enough when another caution was thrown to retrieve Oriol Servia's mirror from the track, but it gave the pack a chance to catch its breath and calm down a little. Dixon, however, had his heart rate rise a little as he counted the cars ahead of him and found that, while Castroneves was doing what he needed by leading, he was only tenth and effectively behind on points for the first time in a long while.

Again, the entire pack opted to stop as soon as the pits opened, but the caution was extended when Graham Rahal shot straight from stall to fast lane and collected the hapless Buddy Rice, ending the Dreyer & Reinbold's frustrating season with a rearranged rear end.

The restart on lap 117 only allowed for one tour before the yellows flew again, this time for Sarah Fisher, and another 16 after the next green, as Viso's aggressive run from 26th to sixth ended in the turn four wall. In the intervening period, Kanaan had grown frustrated of chasing the two Penskes and, after a brief three-wide moment, swept by both to lead, but then saw Castroneves regain teh point as he won the race off pit-road after stopping under Viso's caution.

That actually is untrue, as D&R opted to leave Milka Duno out for a brief moment of glory, but Castroneves and Briscoe wasted little time in restoring normality, with Patrick and Wheldon into third and fourth not long after. Dixon was still back in the pack, wisely not getting too close the duelling ahead of him lest he be drawn in to any fall-out, but was soon on the move, slotting into fourth, behind Wheldon, Castroneves and Briscoe with 30 laps to run.

When Mario Moraes made contact with the wall, and limped back to the pits, the race went yellow once again, and the ensuing round of stops finally saw Dixon hit the front as the Ganassi team produced its best turnaround of the day. Once in front, the Kiwi quickly racked up the five laps he needed to replace Kanaan's exisiting record for time spent at the front in a single season.

With one record in his pocket, Dixon set off after the other within his reach, for the greatest haul of victories in one year. Entering the race in a tie with Wheldon, Dixon had just six further laps to run at the front to reset the record at seven - but Castroneves was determined to leave Joilet with at least one slip of glory.

Having caused two restart attempts to be waved off in his haste to hit the front after Graham Rahal tagged the wall on the previous, lap 188, restart, the Brazilian eventually dropped in behind Dixon, but was far from done. The pair went side-by-side over the final two laps before a fitting finish to the first unified season in 16 years saw the victory decided by a miniscule margin. Although the naked eye suggested Castroneves had edged the verdict, first reports gave victory to the new champion, before video footage confirmed the initial belief.

Briscoe crossed the line third, having been close enough to consider stealing the win on the final lap, while Kanaan took fourth from leading rookie Will Power, who managed to convert a midfield run into fifth at the flag. Wheldon, Darren Manning, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Patrick rounded out the top ten, the Motorola racer having made her final pit-stop just two laps before Moraes brought out the penultimate caution.

Detroit race winner Justin Wilson came home just behind Patrick, but his performance was not enough to wrest rookie of the year honours from AGR's Hideki Mutoh. The Japanese driver had had to pit for repairs on lap 168 but returned to complete enough distance to secure the title by a scant six points.


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