Everyone makes it through the day's first turn smoothly, avoiding a repeat of the multicar crash that commenced the 2011 race. "I think everybody was pretty kind to each other," early leader Scott Dixon said, "which was a big shock." Pole sitter Will Power builds a 2.8-second lead on Ryan Briscoe after 10 laps but surrenders it two laps later to take on four black tires. Contact is essentially absent until Dixon's driver's side twitches Ryan Hunter-Reay at the outset of Lap 18. Two laps later, James Jakes takes a poor angle on Turn 10 and goes into the wall. During the ensuing caution, Tony Kanaan's battery dies, ending an endurance streak of sorts. In his seven previous starts at St. Petersburg, Kanaan had completed every lap. Similarly, the race's two female entrants, Katherine Legge and Simona de Silvestro, endure early mechanical issues. Legge completes 59 laps, de Silvestro 22.
Dixon and Hunter-Reay are a second apart on Lap 30 before Hunter-Reay pits for tires and fuel on Lap 34. Dixon and Helio Castroneves, running 1-2, make pit stops on Lap 37. That propels Takuma Sato, who started 14th, to the front. At one point, his lead grows to four seconds over Mike Conway, who started 11th. A caution flag comes out when Ed Carpenter, appearing to enter the pit area, is hit from behind by Castroneves on Lap 45. A brief officials review yields no penalty for Castroneves. "Nobody said he was going to pit. Nobody gave me any signal," Castroneves said. "If he was pitting, I don't know … something happened because he slowed down in the area where we actually accelerate." When Sato and the other leaders pit on Lap 46, Dixon — who doesn't — takes the lead.
Dixon and Castroneves, running first and second, respectively, make their final pit stops on Laps 69 and 70. Sato takes the lead but pits at Lap 72, making JR Hildebrand the day's sixth leader. With a pit stop looming for Hildebrand (on Lap 75), Castroneves and Dixon find themselves in prime position. On Lap 73, Castroneves gets far outside, breaks as deeply as he can and passes Dixon on Turn 1 for second. "It was awesome because the car (stuck), and I was like, 'Yesss!' " said Castroneves, who soon after passes Hildebrand.
By Lap 80, Castroneves' lead on Dixon grows to more than five seconds. Hunter-Reay, in third, falls seven seconds behind Castroneves as his crew implores him to conserve fuel. E.J. Viso, on the brink of dehydration following an overnight bout of food poisoning, is fifth — seven places ahead of his starting spot — 93 laps into the race before a final pit stop ultimately drops him to eighth. His lead edging closer to insurmountable, Castroneves drives conservatively on the last dozen or so laps and wins by 5.5292 seconds.