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Sonoma Raceway closes the books on IndyCar as Dixon takes his 5th championship

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Ryan Hunter-Reay knew what he had to do to win the IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma – stay in front. Scott Dixon knew what was needed to wrap up a fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship – stay in the hunt. Mission accomplished on both fronts.

Hunter-Reay led on 80 of 85 laps at Sonoma Raceway in a commanding performance to win the 2018 season finale from the pole position. Dixon started second and finished there, which was more than enough to secure the season crown.

“Man, this is so awesome!” said Dixon, whose five championships leave him behind only another legend, A.J. Foyt with seven, in IndyCar annals. “I can’t believe that it’s actually happened. I can’t thank everybody enough for this, it’s so cool!”

Dixon entered the race with a 29-point lead, knowing he essentially only had to finish ahead of second-place Alexander Rossi in the double-points race. But in the first lap Rossi damaged the front wing on his car and punctured a tire in contact with teammate Marco Andretti, and the scales tipped clearly in Dixon’s favor.

From that point on, the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was content to trail Hunter-Reay and bring home the crown that earned Dixon another Astor Cup and $1 million prize.

“It was a very smooth race, but mentally it was tough and draining,” said Dixon, whose 44 race wins rank third in Indy car history. “Yeah, it’s amazing to be in this situation, fifth championship.”

With the achievement, Dixon moved ahead of Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti – each of whom has four titles. All of Dixon’s championships have come in his 17 seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, which laid claim to its 12th IndyCar driver’s title.

“He’s the guy on the track, off the track,” team owner Chip Ganassi said of Dixon. “He’s just the man. When you talk about records – A.J., Mario, all these guys – obviously Scott’s name is in that group now.”

Rossi dropped to last place in the 25-car field following the Lap 1 incident. But he charged back in the No. 27 Napa Auto Parks Honda to finish seventh. It left the 26-year-old Nevada City native 57 points short of Dixon in the quest for his first series championship.

“It was unfortunate because I thought we got a good start,” Rossi said of the contact with Andretti heading up the hill toward Turn 2. “Just two cars going for the same spot type of thing.”

Race winner Hunter-Reay was in command on the 2.283-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course from the outset, surrendering the lead only briefly through pit stop cycles. When the driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda crossed the finish line, he collected the 18th win of an IndyCar career that began in 2003, and put him in 26th place on the all-time IndyCar wins list.

“It was nice to go from pole (to) win, lead the most laps, the whole thing,” Hunter-Reay said. “That’s an ideal race. May not be the most exciting thing for the fans at times, but from a race car driver’s point of view, team owner, race team, it’s the ideal race.”

Hunter-Reay won by 2.7573 seconds over Dixon. Will Power finished third in the race in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and third in the point standings as well.

Hunter-Reay ended up fourth in the championship, with Josef Newgarden fifth following his eighth-place race finish.

This marks the Verizon IndyCar Series’ last race in Sonoma for the foreseeable future as the series has shifted its schedule for 2019. The series has competed at Sonoma Raceway since 2005, and has held its finale here for the past four years.