Special to The Leader

WATKINS GLEN --- After hearing people call his Indianapolis 500 victory a fluke for a year and a half, Alexander Rossi left no doubt about Sunday's Verizon IndyCar Series victory at Watkins Glen International.

In a 12-lap shootout against Scott Dixon - the "Iceman" who's won four times at The Glen and four series championships to his credit - Rossi flat out beat the veteran on raw speed to claim the traditional laurel in victory lane at Watkins Glen.

No fuel saving tactics. No race craft. No flukes.

"Today I was finally able to prove what I've been talking about for the last few months," said Rossi, whose Andretti Autosport team has been on the rise, even if it took a while to bear fruit. "Winning the 500 is enormous on so many levels, but to beat Scott in a 12-lap shootout with the same equipment is pretty special."

Things could have gone wrong, and did.

Paced by Rossi on pole position, the field started the race on wet weather tires, due to a damp track and uncertainty of the forecast, but came in for slicks after the first lap. Rossi's team selected the Firestone black tires, which took a couple laps to come up to temperature. He was quickly overtaken by Helio Castroneves, whose team bolted on the softer red tires. It took 22 laps for Rossi to get back to the lead, but he wasn't there long.

Making a scheduled pit stop, Rossi's team encountered difficulty getting fuel in his NAPA-sponsored Honda-Dallara. The stop took 12 seconds - an eternity on pit lane - and forced Rossi to return for more.

That's usually a race killer.

Thanks for playing. Game over.

Three laps after Rossi made the unscheduled stop, a caution came out which cycled the 25-year-old back into the lead and back on a winnable pit strategy.

"It doesn't matter, the team recovered," Rossi said. "We had the pace to (overcome) it, but it's pretty amazing. Great team effort."

Meanwhile, Dixon's fortunes weren't much better.

Starting second, Dixon immediately fell back to fifth place and got caught behind slower cars going just fast enough to stymie the New Zealander's progress. Additionally, Dixon's team made a gaffe in the pits and he had trouble upshifting in the opening laps.

But he is Scott Dixon and this is Watkins Glen.

"It was definitely pretty crazy," he said. "Once I got clear of that pack I was in, I picked up almost a second (per lap). I tried as hard as I could with what I had."

What he had was the same engine-chassis combo as Rossi.

To that point, the car setups for Sunday's race varied across the spectrum as large, gray clouds threatened to unleash a maelstrom at any second. The uncertainty had some teams using high downforce configurations, some chose more neutral settings and others trimmed their low-slung machines out for maximum speed down The Glen's long straights. That mix of "fingers crossed" strategies produced a good bit of passing - some in very unusual places - but precious little contact.

The one bit of contact that did occur set up the final dash to the finish, and had huge implications on the championship standings with one race left in the season. That story can be explored in Shawn Vargo's sidebar on this very page.

Anyway, on the 45th lap, series points leader Josef Newgarden tagged the Armco exiting pit lane and then got rear ended by Sebastian Bourdais.

"It looks like a stupid error, but it's really easy to do," said Newgarden, who was trying to hurry a car on cold tires onto a cold track.

After the cleanup, Rossi and Dixon found themselves running 1-2 again for the first time since taking the green flag - or as Rossi said, "it was really 12 qualifying laps."

Dixon got as close as six tenths of a second, but that was all Rossi would allow and won by .9514 seconds - clearing third place Ryan Hunter-Reay by a full seven seconds.

"I didn't have the pace those two did at the end, but against everyone else we were really good," said RHR, who won this race in 2008.

Castroneves settled for fourth place, followed by a very quiet fifth place finish for Graham Rahal. Will Power salvaged a sixth place finish and despite scraping the turn 11 fence, Charlie Kimball placed seventh. Newgarden was scored in 18th place after starting third.

The race only took 1:42 hours to complete, despite four caution periods.