O’Ward, who started on the front row of the grid, took over the lead after the first round of stops as early leader Will Power dropped to third behind Dixon, and O’Ward would go on to lead 94 laps, stalked by the five-time champion.
However, at the final stops, Chip Ganassi Racing’s #9 crew got Dixon out in front of the Arrow McLaren SP driver and O’Ward wasn’t able to respond on track. Later he would also lose out on second place to two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato who was able to take advantage of a late stop that gave him tires that were 13 laps newer. O’Ward would finish seven seconds off the lead, a fact that surprised him.
O’Ward said afterward: “Dixie got us in the pit sequence and we determined to try and get him but we didn’t have enough pace to get up to him and pass him. He gapped us quite a bit, and then Sato with fresher tires passed us and left us as well. So then I was just running on my own, defending from [Colton] Herta and [Marcus] Ericsson.
“What Dixon did at the end… he had a pretty massive difference of pace that I just couldn’t keep up. We will analyze, we will check for tomorrow and hopefully we’ll be faster closer to the end of the race tomorrow.”
Asked how close Sato came to his car as he passed him around the outside in that final stint, O’Ward said: “Honestly I thought we touched. I didn’t think he’d throw it outside, but he did.
“He didn’t do anything wrong. I think the racing fans would have loved it. But right when he came round the outside, I had to step on the brakes and back out otherwise if I didn’t we were both going to be in the wall.”
O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion, said that despite belief in his team and in his own abilities, he is somewhat surprised to find himself third in the championship, headed only by Dixon and Josef Newgarden – two drivers with seven IndyCar titles between them.
Asked by Motorsport.com if he found it extraordinary to be in that situation eight races into the season, he replied: “I do. I was not expecting it. Obviously when you go into the season you try and put your expectations aside and just kind of go day to day, trying to maximize your opportunities.
“But we’re in the fight. We’re in the fight… at least for second! And I think it’s been a long time coming. The guys have been working very hard and I actually feel like they deserve the strong results that we’ve had these past couple of weeks.
“We’ve left a lot of points on the table as well but as a team we’re getting better and better.”
He later added: “There’s so many things that go into an IndyCar race if you finish in the top five. Your in and out laps have to be very strong, pitstops have to be very strong, consistency, tire management – there are a lot of factors that go into it. And whenever you’re learning to master that, you’re getting results in the top five, top three, so you think, ‘OK, we can do this.’
"We just have to keep chipping away and I’m sure a win will fall soon. I sure hope so. It’s been a good ride so far and I’m still learning a lot.”